January 13th, 2012
12:33 PM ET

Can meeting of evangelical elites change GOP race?

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - Does a group of more than 150 conservative leaders stand a chance of reshaping the race to the White House? There are reasons for doubt.

Members of the group, which met at a Texas ranch Friday and Saturday, voted Saturday to back GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum. Many of the conservative leaders are well past their primes, with declining influence, and the nominating contest is already pretty far along.

The news media has made much of the meeting, which includes such well-known evangelicals as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer.

The South Carolina primary - a key test of conservative strength - comes just a week after the Texas meeting.

“Some of these evangelical leaders are not as active as they once were in politics and the evangelical movement has changed a little overtime,” says John Green, a political scientist from the University of Akron. “Where this group could have an effect is if they coalesced around one candidate and then helped to provide resources.”

Boots on the ground, phone lists, robocalls, and even the possibility of an evangelical super PAC could move the needle for a candidate, Green said. But the time for such resource-intensive mobilization is growing thin.

"These kind of meetings can have some impact if they can come to a clear resolution six months ago," says Gary Marx, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a national conservative group. "It’s very difficult for a newly formed consensus to turn into strong action in such a short period of time."

Another factor that could dampen the impact of the group meeting in Texas: attendees have already signed up with different candidates.

Bauer is supporting Rick Santorum. American Family Association founder Don Wildmon is backing Newt Gingrich. Other participants have endorsed Rick Perry or Mitt Romney.

"Is it possible that a consensus could be reached? I think it’s possible but not probable," said Perkins, prior to the Saturday vote. " I think what most likely will occur is you will see individual leaders endorse a candidate.”

Bauer says the coalition that's meeting in Texas has been getting together regularly for more than five years around various issues. But there's not always agreement.

"We tried to unite around one candidate in 2008 and were unsuccessful,” he says. “I am skeptical that out of [this meeting] will come any type of consensus.”

Romney is the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination but many social conservative leaders aren't exactly gaga over him.

“I do think there is great concern Romney is not the most conservative candidate in the race,” says Perkins, who helped organize the Texas meeting. “There’s a desire to see a candidate that’s truly conservative and can energize conservative voters and win the general election.

"There will be a discussion about that," he says. "Is there a candidate a consensus could form around that could carry the conservative banner?”

Some who are attending the Texas powwow are frustrated that evangelicals are dividing their influence among a handful of Republican candidates, creating an easier path for Romney.

News of the meeting, happening about halfway between Houston and Austin, leaked out last week and framed the event as part of a search for an anti-Romney candidate. Meeting organizers vehemently deny that notion.

“We’re not having an anti-Romney meeting - it’s not true,” Paul Pressler, a former judge who is hosting the meeting on his ranch, told CNN. “That’s a figment of the imagination of the press. We’re having an anti-Obama meeting.”

Pressler served in the Texas state legislature as a Democrat until 1993. He has said that “the Democratic Party left me.”

Bauer said that if meeting was aimed to stop a particular candidate, "I would focus my attention on Ron Paul, not Mitt Romney.”

But Perkins said the leaders may come to the conclusion it is time to press certain candidates to leave the race, which he said was a lesson of the 2008 race, when Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson split some evangelical votes in South Carolina and elsewhere.

“There could be a consensus arrived at that would maybe nudge candidates to maybe step out before it’s too late," Perkins said.

Supporters of various candidates are expected to talk up their picks at the meeting, focusing on where each candidate stands economic and social issues.

But some conservative Christian leaders oppose the very idea of the meeting.

“I think group think isn’t the way to go,” Bob Vander Plaats, President of the conservative Family Leader in Iowa said. “We have too many pro-family candidates in the race.  If we dilute our support Romney will win.”

Vander Plaats personally endorsed Santorum. Although he received an invitation Pressler's ranch event, he won’t be attending.

“The leaders who lead these organizations know what to do,” he said.
“I would say switch your tickets and go to South Carolina or Florida where you can help.”

“From my angle, leaders are called to lead," he added. "I don’t think they should be watching the dance play out from the sidelines.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Politics

soundoff (586 Responses)
  1. pankajsteven

    This is a really ashamed matter for politics. The religious concern in politics in very bad for all.

    November 26, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  2. Sharmaine Schmitke

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    April 6, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  4. Briscoe Cain

    Sad that the author, Eric Marrapodi, failed to fact check. Judge Pressler served in the Texas legislature for two years, 1957-1959. He was no where near a State Representative in 1993 as reported in the article. Please correct your error Mr. Eric Marrapodi.

    January 18, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  5. Iqbal Khan


    January 16, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  6. John


    January 16, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • ......

      TROLL Alert – don't bother watching this garbage, click the report abuse link to get rid of this stupid TROLL!

      January 17, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  7. Mighty7

    They picked Santorum.....What do you think?

    January 16, 2012 at 6:12 am |
  8. tokencode

    Anyone touting their values and religion over anothers should not have any influence in politics what so ever. I do find it entertaining that such social conservatives decided to back Santorum, who's last name means anal foam. Google it.

    BTW when a candidate loses by 18% in his own state, which is a crucial swing state, he's probably not the smartest choice

    January 16, 2012 at 2:39 am |
    • HellBent

      To be fair, the definition of his last name was defined as such because of him – it's a recent thing, a definition that was invented and made popular by the interwebs.

      That being said, it seems fair enough, given his hateful policies.

      January 16, 2012 at 2:42 am |
  9. Tax Exempt Status should be Revoked

    The tax exempt status of religious organizations participating in politics in this manner should be revoked.

    January 16, 2012 at 2:26 am |
  10. Lenny Pincus

    The Republicans have played the Christianists for years. Never delivered much of anything but pretended they were real important. Guess what, clowns? We're goin' with a Mormon this year. Tough luck. Take a big bite of the beef sandwich and leave your Jesus beads at the door. The really rich guy who believes every side of the story is our guy so get used to it. We like his pliability and his cash, and he's not from the south which we are all sick of. Perry from Texas, Barbour from Ole Miss, Newt from Georgia–them are a lot of stinky steers. There's the Dairy queen and his wife who ran in Minn. More of him s we say, more of him. Soon we will cure bad hair choices right after we clear the society of gay stuff. I think the dairy queen can help if we can get him out. And Callista. She is truly the bad girl trying to hook up with the dangerous guy–probably Hunstman. I see a lot of moo-moo's and tears and boring stories about hanging with Steve Ford when she was young She met Jimmy Carter once and likes his trousers. Al the conservatives are gonna get together in prairie du Cheine, Wisconsin to futher debate how a miracle happen. I already think its gonna be great and thr Double Door is gonna rock tonight. The Drums from Brooklyn have youngsters in a tease. aaair, skinny,,sslightly european. What the gitl nrrfd snf wants.

    January 16, 2012 at 2:15 am |
  11. Ricardo A. Martinez

    These evangelicals are making Romney look good, maybe that is plan after all, it makes sense, if this is true only one man could have thought of this, Carl Rowe, great idea, but the fact is Obama, is the Man!

    January 15, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  12. Ricardo A. Martinez

    I remember when I was a young, in childhood and teens, the Evangelicals were persons that would preach, about Jesus Christ, love your fellow man, be good, share, help others and so on. but now all I hear from these so-called Evangelicals is hate, deport, me, me, me, my way, only way!!! I believe these lost Evangelicals have become what they warn us against, a bunch of False and devilish leaders. One of the worst Evangelicals is the Shameful, forgetful "Rick Perry", what a shame that he calls himself a Texan.

    January 15, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • Charles

      Well spoken, thank you...

      January 16, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Tcortes

      Evangelicals havent changed. Just your perception of them has. Its not hard to see why. cnn,nbc,abc and all the rest have been trashing them 24 7 for years and you have listened and believed their assault. They are an easy target. The hard targets like Islam is never trashed.

      January 16, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • Melting Pot

      Tcortes, your first two sentences are correct, the rest is crap. Evangelicals have always wanted to force their views on society as a whole, want everyone to behave according to their rules. They need to be kept out of politics, as they are a dangerous affront to the freedoms we hold dear.

      January 16, 2012 at 2:24 am |
  13. Scientificpoetry

    I want my country back. Religious organizations need to stay out of politics. I'm fed up with the "evangelical vote". What happened with separation with church and state...

    January 15, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  14. El Flaco

    I don't think Romney is the strongest candidate for the Republicans. Republicans cannot win without the Fundamentalist and Evangelical votes. Do you think that those folks will vote for a heretic? For a President that will surely go to Hell?

    And if Romney has chosen to be a heretic, then is he not consiously choosing to be on the side of Satan instead of choosing the Lord?

    These are weighty issues.

    January 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Gadflie

      A heretic? That's actually kind of funny.

      January 15, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • momoya

      The weightiest issue I see, El Flaco, is your willingness to label people who don't think exactly like you. Not only do you throw around a weighty word like "heretic," but you show the level to which you have bought into the disgusting and terroristic idea of hell. When you call a god "good" who maintains an eternal torture chamber, then who would ever want anything that you call "good?' Let me know who you think is a good, non-heretical candidate so I can do everything I can to stop that individual.

      January 15, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • Charles

      Well when you really think about it, take Romney, put him with Rick Santorum and you've got a winning ticket. I mean what better a ticket than a cult follower Romney and the evangelical Rick Santorum. Wow, light vs dark on prime time TV...

      January 16, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • Pagan2012

      Burn the heretic! He's a witch. If I throw him in water and he floats or comes up for air, then he's a witch. If he drowns, then he will be justified, and be remembered as a good Christian who was martyred to be with his maker. The logic makes perfect sense. All political power to the evangelicals, the only sane people around!. God will continue to punish America until we help him bring his kingdom on earth. Homersekyouahls, opinionated women and left wingers are an abomination in the eyes of the Lard. Burn them all, in the name of the Lard.

      January 16, 2012 at 2:07 am |
  15. Mark

    The evangelical leaders have completely lost their power within the Republican party. Just open your eyes. The current front runner is Romney (a Mormon) by a wide margin and the evangelical candidate (santorum) is widely perceived as being a complete nut by all the states outside of the bible belt.

    January 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Charles

      Thank you, well said...

      January 16, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  16. SciGuy

    I am an evangelical, and am ashamed to admit it when I see how so called evangelical Xians rush to support the warmongers when hey have a peace candidate like Ron Paul available. I strongly doubt that they are christian in anything but name.

    January 15, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • PushingBack

      If only more folks shared your common sense.

      January 15, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • Wes

      "Evangelicals" is not a subset of "pacifists".

      January 16, 2012 at 1:13 am |
    • Auld

      I do not understand how evangelicals can support the Republican party. I would think the philosphies of the democratic party are much closer to keeping what Christ asked us to do.

      To be our brother's keeper. To be peacemakers.

      To feed the hungry.
      To give drink to the thirsty.
      To shelter the homeless.
      To clothe the naked.
      To visit and ransom the captive, (prisoners).
      To visit the sick.
      To bury the deadI

      Instead I see them cheering to allow an uninsured sick person die. I heard them booing an American soldier for being gay. I see them supporting the richest with tax breaks, shelters, very low capital gains taxes and non-existent estate taxation.

      They support a massive military, seem to approve of torture and rendition. They wildly support guns of all types and long prison sentences for the little guy. They hate the illegal immigrant who has come here to work and provide for their families. Gingrich wants poor kids to work as janitors. They support insurance companies who refuse healthcare coverage, deny coverage and charge so much for services that too many millions cannot afford it.

      And I think the most hideous thing is......their lack of stewardship over God's beautiful planet. By supporting the GOP, evangelicals approve of pollution of all kinds which is slowly destroying this planet. One thing I am sure of.....God doesn't like petrocarbons being spewed into the atmosphere and damaging the little pink lungs of children so Exxon can make a few billion more in annual profit.

      With the exception of abortion, what reason is their to support Republicans. I will also note that GOP don't do anything about overturning Roe v. Wade. GW Bush had the White House, the Congress and the USSC...and he did not take one step to overturn abortion. Abortion is something that any evangelical can personally refuse to do..and they certainly have the right to educate others so abortions will not be necessary.

      I just don't get it.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:57 am |
  17. C, K, Justice


    January 15, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  18. Steve the Goat

    Stupid religious nutjubs. Evangelical ones especially should be sterilized.

    January 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Christian

      And you shouldn't be?

      January 15, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.