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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. Tha Dude

    Answer to the headline--------HELL!!!!

    April 10, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  2. SPLAT!~

    And God sends yet another message to the Evangelical GOP that they will fail to interpret correctly!~ (Hint: God is telling you your WRONG!~)

    April 10, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  3. Rick

    Cry, little religious nuts cry
    Cry, little religious nuts cry
    Sniff.. sniff...

    April 10, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  4. johnfrichardson

    How to proceed? Keep walking until you come to a large body of water and then, keep walking!

    April 10, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  5. WDinDallas

    Who is the VP?

    April 10, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Kamal David

      Why of course, Santorum!

      April 10, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  6. Rick

    I thing religious conservatives should go another country and stay there. Maybe try to conquer Afghanistan and set up their base there. The Afghan are used to religious nuts taking over, so it would not be much of a change for them.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • WDinDallas

      Why don't all you progressives go to Greece....

      April 10, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Sean

      Totally agree. God forbid we give a social group rights like the rest of the people in America. Jesus wouldn't have wanted that. Santorum could probably win over the Afghan people too.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Kamal David

      Did someone say Greece? Come on guys...that's purgatory country.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • SPLAT!~

      WDinDallas
      Why don't all you progressives go to Greece....
      -------------------
      We're doing just fine right here thanks!~

      April 10, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  7. Dave

    It's 2012 and we are still talking about "god." How embarrassing.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Amadea

      Can't help but think how embarrassing it's going to be for you, Dave, on the last day!

      April 10, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Come to the Dark Side! We Have Cookies!

      Looky! Another Christian who love to threaten! What a surprise.

      Any evidence on that, Amadea? No? Of course not. You are threatening us with fairy tales. Spooky! Scawy!

      April 10, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • Willie Poundergash

      The last day of what?

      SANTORUM 1912

      April 10, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  8. Kamal David

    I'd really like to know what % of Republicans really supported Santorum because of his religious-ness. I would bet it's in the single digits. This little group is very die-hard and vocal...make the rest of the decent Americans basically shut down. The GOP now has a fighting chance to beat Obama. They would have got walloped in the General Elections with Santorum!

    April 10, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      Correct. Romney can win because it is thinkable that the country could survive a Romney presidency. I can't imagine how anyone could feel energized by Romney, but he is at least not scary. Santorum would have led the Republicans to epic defeat.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  9. tony

    listen to "prayer changes things" and stay home and pray. Then the rest of us can set the world to rights by actual action instead of wishful thinking.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  10. dallastexas75205

    SEPARATION of Church and State.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • WDinDallas

      Remember, TJ wanted the State out of Religion...he never said he wanted Religion out of State. Go read the Danbury letters, both of them.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      TJ absolutely DID want the CHURCH out of government.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  11. abtxoo

    "conservative evangelicals who form the GOP’s base"

    Huh? Sorry. Nice try.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  12. Scott

    I think they should join Al Qaeda. They seem to have a lot in common.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  13. Scottie Rich

    The religious conservative should really have a third party. I know they have tried this before but it certainly would be a place for these people. Santorum would have been the nominee and run against Romney and at least they would have had a candidate in the running.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • DaveinSC

      One day in the future, a scientist will invent a time machine, and they'll all be able to go back to the dark ages.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Come to the Dark Side! We Have Cookies!

      As Perot proved twice and Nader once, third parties throw the election to the other side. This is unfortunate, because it means that it is bad for someone to really have their say and vote for a third party that is closer to what they believe, and because it entrenches the established parties, whom I would argue are both in desperate need of major evolution.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  14. tony

    Smaller government, and low taxes, just means that an obscenely wealthy aristocracy appears to fill the gap. Just like most of the past 2000 years. And they waaaaaaay prefer serfs and religious bondage to free men and so make the laws accordingly. American democracy may just be a fleeting rare period of history if the morons screw it up much longer.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  15. Come to the Dark Side! We Have Cookies!

    Who will conservatives vote for, the candidate that enacted a semi-socialized health care plan, or the candidate who enacted a semi-socialized health care plan.

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This is delicious!

    April 10, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Scott

      It does kind of add something to it, don't you think?

      April 10, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  16. foreverwar

    They should keep following Santorum, maybe start a nutty cult.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  17. JonathanSwift

    Where should religious conservatives go? Why, straight to hell, of course.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • God

      All in good time my son, all in good time.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  18. cgs

    The answer is easy. Go Romney/Rubio 2012! Nothing to be sad about!

    April 10, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  19. Prayer changes things

    Proof positive that prayer works: Obama prayed that Santorum would bow out in failure, and the Good Lord answered his prayers!

    Obama also prayed for a weak unappealing candidate to run against, preferably something weird like a Mormon, and ta-da!!! Prayer worked! His last prayer is that Ron Paul stays in and gets the whack-a-doodle religious vote so that Paul becomes like Nader and Perot, giving the election away to the other side. And that's happening too!

    Prayer works . . . if you are a communist muslim atheist socialist black not-american-born antiChrist (note to comments – this part is pure Poe).

    April 10, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  20. hoapres

    Religous conservatives should for Obama.

    If you really believe Obama is responsible for the mess then the best thing to do is vote for him as the mess is coming no matter who is President. While no Republican leader will publicly say the obvious being "God forbid should Romney win the election", we will have to endure until November a "nonelection" resulting in an Obama victory.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:34 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.