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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.

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“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. cisom

    I hate to say it, but its kind of funny watching the Evangelicals in this predicament. They are taught from youth to hate Mormons. Now they can vote a Mormon or someone who will send this country to financial he ll. Decisions, decisions. God is certainly clever.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  2. Phil in KC

    It must come as a great shock to all those ultra-conservatives to find out that their own party is not as conservative as they had imagined – let alone the rest of the country. The disillusionment must be over-powering. But I'm sure they'll be able to rationalize it away somehow. They certainly can't admit that their viewpoint is actually in the minority.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  3. JT

    To be perfectly blunt the real question for Evangelicals is "Who hates the same people and groups we hate!! The Catlick has bailed and now we have a cultist mormon left. Oh well..he's better than the nigger mooslim so I guess I'll have to hold my nose and vote for the false Christian.".

    April 10, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Bob

      Wow JT. You hit the nail on the head. That's exactly what this evangelical was thinking.

      Not.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • mikstov33

      No need to resort to racist stupidity........There seems to be quite enough of that in this country at the moment.What sort of epitaph would you be using if Hillary was chosen in 2009?

      April 10, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  4. Vishu

    Somalia

    April 10, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  5. Emilio Dumphuque

    Face it! Rick and Newt are just the only "Not Romney"s that didn't know when to "fold 'em".

    April 10, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  6. BK

    I have to say it makes me sick that these people can't fathom voting for someone of a different religion than their own. How brutally un-American.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • RadicalModerate

      I assure you that conservative Christians will indeed vote for the conservative rather than the Christian. They are more loyal to their selfish ideology than they are to the faith they have perverted.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • JT

      What's really alarming is that they would rather vote for someone who will promote their theocracy than for someone who will fix the economy. That's terrifying and Thomas Jefferson would be apalled.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  7. caesaro

    to h-ell?

    April 10, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  8. Joke

    Religious conservatives can sit out the 2012 election. There is no one to represent their interests. Romney has proven that he is ready to compromise (surrender) on every social-conservative issue, including abortion and gay marriage. Unless there is a revolt at the GOP convention, and Christie is drafted by the party, Obama has it made.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  9. zenfire

    Sometimes, people who claim to be Christians are the worst at judging others. Christians love those who go to their congregation – and sometimes that is a stretch. Hypocrites really!

    April 10, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  10. Margaret

    I read the headline, where will religious conservatives go, and a few thoughts went through my mind. But that would not be Christian. So maybe they can stay home on election day.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Bardfast

      The same thing went through my mind!

      April 10, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  11. Susan

    Ha! Religious conservatives can go to hell–since they believe in it! But I'm not going there and you can't force me even if you kill me.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  12. Dan

    For those that truly understand the Mormon faith and Mitt Romney, they would know that he is a very conservative religious man. The very core beliefs he values are perfectly in line with most conservative religious voters. Only difference is that Mitt does not where them on his sleeve and does not "pound the pulpit" with them as others do. If you look deeper and really seek to understand his core values, you will find a strong Christian belief system that is in line with yours.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Bardfast

      Does that include the planet Kolob? How about the magical underwear?

      April 10, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • RadicalModerate

      My core belief system does not involve saying and doing whatever seems expedient at the moment to get elected. I don't have anything against him as a politician because of his religion. I have problems with his character in general and his disdain for the poor in particular. I would have gladly supported Huntsman.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Susan

      My Christian beliefs say to stick to Sunday only and leave Christ and God out of national and local politics and government. I will move to and live in a moderate to liberal state that leaves my beliefs alone and does not tread on how a woman handles her or her families planning–health or marriage.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Please Think

      Those who truly know Romney, knows that he only holds one core belief: that he should be elected. Everything else is mutable. He is neither conservative nor liberal. He is whatever a particular group needs him to be.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  13. fearmonger

    They go straight to hell!!!!!

    April 10, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  14. joe smith

    DOG WILL SHOW THEM THE WAY RICKS A DICK!!!!

    April 10, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  15. SensibleJoe

    Here's a solution to the quandary Mr. Farris and allies find themselves in: simply lay aside politics and do as Jesus said - "Treat others the same way you want others to treat you" (Luke 6:31).

    April 10, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Rick

      Exactly, don't try to impose your religious values onto others, if you want other to try to impose their religious values onto you.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  16. RadicalModerate

    So the alternative (Obama) is something they "can't live with", huh? What a conundrum since they also oppose suicide. Would leaving the country resolve the dilemna?

    April 10, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Rick

      I think they should, and never come back.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  17. allthatmatters

    Why don't we elect someone that is going to get the job done. The evangelicals need to know they do not represent the will of "todays" society. Running the govt. on the basis of a "non-fictional" book written over 2 thousand years is absurd.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • RadicalModerate

      Properly interpreted and implemented biblical principles is still better than whatever feels right at the moment IMHO. I prefer how BO has done it better than recent repubs.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  18. mikstov33

    Isn't Barry O a christian? Or a Muslim? Maybe he's one of those new(shudder)Chrislamists!Now that would really scare the h-e-double hockey sticks out of a good fundamentalist,eh?
    I personally don't think it matters a whole lot since BO is going to win anyway.The way the Repubs are going it almost looks like they have given up the (holy) ghost and are simply in for amusements sake. So the rest of us should simply pull up our pants, tighten our belts, and HOPE we have some CHANGE left after the next term. And pray for a better stable of candidates for 2016.HRC in '16,maybe?(shudder!)

    April 10, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • staneve

      NOT SO FAST !

      April 10, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
      • mikstov33

        That thought scares the bejeebus out of me,too!

        April 10, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    April 10, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  20. Sal

    I know where they could all go! 

    April 10, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • mandarax

      ...you beat me to it!

      April 10, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Heartland Harry

      Wish they would all just move out of the country. No better than the radical Muslims who want to impose their beliefs on others.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:22 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.