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April 10th, 2012
04:33 PM ET

With Santorum suspending campaign, some religious conservatives wonder how to proceed

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - Evangelical activist Michael Farris was not exactly surprised that Rick Santorum suspended his campaign on Tuesday. But that doesn’t mean that Farris, a longtime political organizer, knows what he’s supposed to do now.

“Right now my choice is to sit on my hands and do nothing or to actively try to find some alternative” to Mitt Romney, Farris said in an interview shortly after Santorum's announcement.

“Some of us just have a hard time supporting a person who said he was going to be more liberal on gay rights than Ted Kennedy,” said Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, referring to remarks Romney made in a 1994 letter.

Farris’ reaction is a stark emblem of the disappointment among religious conservatives over Santorum's announcement, and a reminder that Romney’s enthusiasm deficit among the conservative evangelicals who form the GOP’s base hasn’t gone away.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

“There are two kinds of disappointment today,” said John Green, a religion and politics expert at the University of Akron. “One is felt by people who care a great deal about social issues, especially white evangelicals, who are uncomfortable with Mitt Romney.”

“And there’s another group who really liked Santorum,” Green continued, “and were quite excited about him not only because of the social issues but because they saw him as representing this positive role for faith and values in a society.”

The conservative and largely evangelical Family Research Council said in an email to supporters Tuesday night that Santorum's announcement "was clearly disappointing news for those looking for a nominee who understands and articulates the connection between the social and fiscal challenges facing America."

"His historical run for President achieved remarkable success because his campaign was based not on money spent, but on the pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-freedom message he carried," the Family Research Council email blast said.

Religious conservatives were the key to Santorum’s unlikely rise as a serious presidential candidate. Conservative evangelicals and Catholics were drawn to Santorum as much for his personal story – he is a conservative Catholic and homeschooling dad of seven – as for his outspoken advocacy against abortion rights and same-sex marriage as a U.S. senator.

While polls showed him at the back of a seven-person pack just weeks before January’s first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, Santorum won a plurality of Iowa evangelicals, who accounted for nearly 60% of the electorate. That support laid the foundation for a first place Iowa finish.

After Santorum’s primary loss in New Hampshire to Mitt Romney - and days before Santorum would lose to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina - conservative religious activists convened in Texas and congealed behind the former Pennsylvania senator.

With strong evangelical support, Santorum went on to win primaries and caucuses in 11 states, even as Romney racked up more than twice as many delegates.

Not all conservative religious activists are as dead-set against Romney as Farris, who is also chancellor at Patrick Henry College, a school for homeschooled youth.

“Barack Obama will unite conservatives and people of faith more so than any single Republican candidate can hope to do,” said Mat Staver, an evangelical Christian who leads the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel.

But Staver said Romney would have to work hard to excite social conservatives.

“He’s going to have to make some intentional steps to reach out to evangelicals and religious conservatives,” said Staver. “It would be a mistake to assume he has every vote from evangelicals and religious conservatives locked up.”

At the moment, plenty of other conservative activists say they’re still in wait-and-see mode about the primary season.

“It’s very likely that he’ll end up the nominee, but he’s not he nominee yet,” said Steve Scheffler, president or the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, about Romney. “He was never my first choice, but I’ll support him because the alternative is something we can’t live with.

“But I’m not ready to throw my support to him yet,” Scheffler said.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Politics • Rick Santorum

soundoff (1,591 Responses)
  1. Brett

    Message to Michael Farris: Stop obsessing about what other people are doing with their genitalia and get a life.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  2. Hahaha

    If it was a race between Obama, Romney and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, would the evangelicals run to Ahmedinejad? After all, Ahmedinejad would do his best to end abortion, kill gay rights, reduce women's rights, instill prayer in schools. That fits the evangelical bill. They can't pretend otherwise.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  3. tony

    Heaven is an eternal totalitarian socialist regime. That's why all the conservatives look forward to ending up there.

    Thinking things through isn't their forte'.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  4. Michael

    How about straight to hell? They'll all end up there anyway.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  5. tcaros

    Back to a timeout in the republican "think tank" (oxymoron).

    April 10, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  6. tony

    They should just speed things up a bit and go directly to Heaven, instead of waiting out their time here. After all it's so much better for them there.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  7. tony

    They could just speed things up a bit and go directly to Heaven, instead of waiting out their time here. After all it's so much better for them there.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  8. penel9

    Zealots on both ends of the spectrum, Left and Right, do not stand as the majority's template for what we feel is for the good of the whole of this great nation. Most of us, I dare to venture, are expecting compromise in our government to keep us sound, honest, fair and decent. I'm so disappointed that we, the voters, aren't demanding that. While I want to help the less-fortunate, I want them to help themselves and at some point give back at least what they spend. The system doesn't bother with that tho.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  9. sharoom

    Well, I'm pretty sure religious conservative are now going to demand a religiously conservative VP pick.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • reason

      Who could forget how well Palin worked out.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  10. CJ

    Curious how he uses the word 'suspend' for his campaign. As if it is going to start up again like a 'suspended' baseball game. Perhaps it has a consoling effect as if it means he isn't really withdrawing from the race, which is of course what he is doing. And it is also nonsense about his ill child being the reason. While I do sympathize with anyone who has the extra work of trying to care for a disabled child (be it trisomy 18, 21 or autism,etc), this was true at the start of the campaign as much as now. He just lost to an alternative candidate yet feels he cannot be honest and simply say that. This is not surprising as the religious are frequently quite fragile. Always ready to feel they have been offended or persecuted. I hope the religious can find a way to return to the Iron Age which is where much of their social code comes from. There are places in the world very much like how they were 1000 yrs ago. Somalia for example.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  11. gasandoilman

    Catholics beware ... you are not just losing a candidate but a Reality TV Show as well.

    There is a loud squeak as the door is opened.
    A small shaft of light enters into the darkness & then the door is slammed shut.
    Thus began the last episode of "INNER SANCTORUM."
    BaBummm BaBummm (The Catholics love the bum)
    Rick was excited, kind of like an Alter Boy the first time a Catholic Priest takes a liking to him.
    Where could it all have led?
    The Yellow Brick Primary Road was just too steep with too many curves. Santorum lost his fight against the other mean,
    spiteful & dishonest bad people.

    Does God know the answer?
    Many Catholics seem to think so.
    The same Catholics who support a church that condoned child molestation for centuries.
    The same Catholics who took their lawsuit money & were able to finance the republican Catholic of the month.

    What does the future hold for the conservative right?
    What is God predicting for the NAZI right wing Party?
    Not much unless you watch the reruns on the Catholic weather channel.
    Weather Prediction ..... Very stormy for the next 4 years, rolling blackouts, tornadoes in the Bible Belt & low ratings.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  12. reason

    Instead of finding another religious candidate these zeolots should keep their religion out of politics!

    April 10, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • shootmyownfood

      Hear, hear!

      April 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  13. 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls.

    YES!! The biggest and most radical believer is out of the race. This is very good news for the USA and the rest of the world. Now everyone else can dial back the hawkish rhetoric.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  14. montyross

    evangelicals vote for Obama show the establishment that youre votes do count and this year you be the swing vote....

    April 10, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • staneve

      I WILL NOT VOTE FOR OBAMA ! BTW I'm a christian

      April 10, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  15. No fool

    I don't like the idea of being resurrected with the same decrepit body I shall be leaving...no great reward! I prefer the idea of Voltaire who once wrote: "The resurrection, Madame, is the simplest thing in the world. It is no more surprising to be born twice than once." Resurrection in the widely accepted Christian sense therefore is a distorted mutation of reincarnation. As once stated in essence by a USGS scientist who was urged to get away before Mt. Saint Helens erupted. " I don't believe you live only once; 'I believe we keep coming back until we get it right." If he and Voltaire and all the other literary "smugglers" of the same grand, ancient truth are wrong, which I doubt, if there really is no afterlife, nothing, zero, zilch, at least there'll be no more intolerable suffering amond humans or among the sentient creatures we call "beasts." Which may explain the increasing numbers of people who commit suicide these days.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  16. thecollegeadmissionsguru

    I think that all the Evangelicals need to gather in a huge stadium somewhere and stay there until late November. Perhaps they can pray someone into office. I'm sure that "god" is really concerned about who the president is for four years in America. Wait, no he isn't, because god is a myth.

    Religion has NO place in politics.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • tony

      I think they should go to a South American country or a place that has a King instead of Parliaments and so "smaller government" .

      April 10, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  17. ELH

    How to proceed, how to proceed? Hmmmmm–first we need to find another theocrat who hates women, the elderly, the poor and the sick. Then we must make sure he believes blindly in religious dogma and genuinely wants to impose his beliefs on everybody else. We also need to make sure that he is not too well versed on foreign policy or defense strategy or economic theory.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      I was JUST about to post something like this. Well said.

      April 10, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Alpa Chino

      He also needs to be worried about 'bleh' people, and "government nig...um, ffff....."

      April 10, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Come To The Dark Side! We Have Cookies!

      Hey, remember in 2000 when George W was campaigning as the "foreign policy" president, then a reporter asked him to name the leaders of 10 countries, and he couldn't do it? And look at the foreign policy we got for having ignored that!

      April 10, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  18. PogMoThoin

    HELLO PEOPLE, it is a political election. Faith shouldn't have anything to do with it, that's why you have a church to go to.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      Darn good point!

      April 10, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Michael

      Article. VI. ... but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  19. Time To Help Mitt Out!!!

    Let's all help Mitt select his running mate! Who do you want to see as his Vice Presidential Candidate, and why?

    I say his running mate should be . . . Charlie Sheen! Let's face it, Charlie is a much more interesting speaker than anyone in the entire political spectrum, and Mitt needs someone to counterbalance his starched-shirt prudish Mormon stiffness.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Mark

      Let's see... Adolph Hitler is gone – but so is Herman Goering, Heinrich Himler and Pol Pot. Either Rush Limbaugh or Grover Norquist. They are close.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  20. Ufia

    Reading anything said by an evangelical is like listening to Bizarro talk. They think bad things are good and good things are bad.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:54 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.