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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. tfbuckfutter

    Where Religious Conservative go....is their fricking Church. Not to the polls. Not to Congress. Not to the Senate. TO THEIR CHURCH. And leave the rest of us the HELL alone.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  2. Melvin Painter

    Don't worry, they sure the heck ain't going to the radical muslim's side.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  3. Gfoos

    Wassup with God? Told Michelle Bachmann to run for president...and Newt... and Rick Santorum...seems the devine creator is on a losing streak! Or, perhaps, God isn't really into white, right-wing North Americans, and is just having' a bit of fun! Way to go God! Always knew you had a keen sense of humor! Duck-billed Platypus=Republicans! It's all one big Devine joke!

    April 10, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • JT

      You forgot about Rick Perry of Texas. Jesus told him to run too and then gave him the middle finger.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  4. IslandAtheist

    They become worm dirt like everybody else.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  5. yneeme

    As a Christian and a Republican who voted for Obama last time... I won;t make that mistake again so I am voting for Governor Romney (unless Ron Paul is on the ballot as an independent)

    April 10, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  6. Charles

    How should religious conservatives proceed? Read the First Amendment again.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  7. CCB

    I find it interesting for white evangelicals to just focus on abortion and gay rights and NOT on racism, helping the poor and the elderly,no plans for helping millions of Americans who may not have health insuranceet if "Obamacare" is struck down by the conservatives plus Justice Kennedy???, all the cuts to social programs for Americans that really need them, etc., etc., if Romney gets in. So they rather vote for a non-Christian, one who does not believe in the deity Christ, vs. Obama, a Christian who may have a doctinal issue in re abortion and gay rights with some of us "African American evangelicals"???
    This is very interesting to say the least, evangelicals voting for a non-Christian over a Christian??? Conclusion, they would vote for anyone over Obama, an African American. Why won't they be honest and just ADMIT IT!!!
    Racism in my humble opnion is one the biggest sins in America and until American deals with it(and other corporate sinful behavior) in a real Christian manner, Giod will continue to chastise us as a nation. Christian leaders whom Christ has given national and international influence are not standing up to be counted. One I wrote to one leader who replied that dealing with it, racsim, was NOT his ministry??? What? Christ help us because only He can do it!!!

    April 10, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  8. t.sarcastic

    They will proceed straight to the Gop nominee and vote for him like the good little sheep they are. What else would they do?

    April 10, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  9. Jerry

    Who do religious conservatives vote for now?....Anybody but Obama!

    April 10, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  10. michael ejedawe

    hopefully off the face of the earth

    religious people have no place in todays world as government authority

    April 10, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Passover_or_bendover

      Passover or bend over. same shiiiiit.

      April 10, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  11. kentuckyscience.com

    Who was the greatest man to have ever been born out of a mothers womb or the greatest man to have ever lived? Jesus is the Son of God, so the obvious answer would be Jesus. However, Jesus says that John the Baptist was the greatest. Jesus was not a liar, so why did he say the John the Baptist was greater than the Christ born of a virgin womb? John the Baptist is associated with loving God, since he prepared the way for Grace. If you are a Christian and you think that Grace is above the greatest commandment you are wrong. Don't take my word for it, read Luke 7:28. Jesus makes it clear that even those who love God the least in the Kingdom of God is greater. Talk about humility, that is remarkable humility by Jesus Christ. Jesus is associated with Grace, one can only get to heaven through the son. This fact alone should make Jesus the Greatest man to have ever come from a mothers womb. John the Baptist condemned Herod to Hell for being an adulator, since he had no desire to change his ways and Love God. (Mark 6:14-29) John the Baptist is associated with loving God, since he prepared the way for Grace. Why does this matter? John the Baptist got his head cut off for speaking the truth about consequences. It is obvious that Herod used his position as King to do whatever he wanted with complete disregard to God’s Word. That is why John rebuked King Herod! Herod was sinful and unrepentant for his actions. If a preacher tells his congregation that all they need to do is accept Jesus and be saved by Grace without informing them of the consequences of not being born again, then why should they have any regard to God's word? John the Baptist was not afraid to speak the truth about the importance of loving God. Money made Herod appear to have authority. How much authority does he have now?

    April 10, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • t.sarcastic

      You okay?? Should someone be calling the foks in the white coats??

      April 10, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Ace

      What????

      April 10, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • Kentucky Fried Science

      Kentucky science? Well ain't that the prettiest little oxymoron you ever done heard!

      April 10, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • dreamer96

      John the Baptist never doubted his faith...and Jesus knew what was expected of him...but did ask his father why...John never ask why..that is why Jesus held John the baptist higher then himself...Jesus was humble...and would break bread with the sinners too..was true grace in action..a life by example..Something missing today in many church goers..

      April 10, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • RPM

      Separation of church and state cannot be breached. You quote scripture as if it is fact and has equal meaning to people all faiths. Keep your faith in your family and heart but out of my life. Conservatives need to learn that faith biased politics and policies violate the rights of all except Christians. Religious freedom is a basic right here and cannot be compromised for political agendas that repress many.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  12. bigshotprof

    Where do religious Republicans go? To a special heaven with dinosaurs.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  13. flavoter

    Relax Evangelicals ...GOD Mitt will rule over you he will show you the same love and mercy that he would show a family pet. If you all vote for him he may allow you to pray to his GODS.

    Can some really with truth answer this question.. Do Mormon believe in many Gods? And yes it does matter to many.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  14. trollol

    Now imagine listening to Romney's voice for the next four years. Every time I hear him speak, I just want slap him with a shovel. Is that normal?

    April 10, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  15. paul

    Sarah–the door is wide open. You have been saying you would run if the country needed you and now is your chance. It is time to put up or shut up.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  16. skyking

    *...some religious conservatives wonder how to proceed." Join the Westboro Baptist Church and rail against gays whenever you can find a funeral procession. Your time in the spotlight is just about done. Bye bye.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  17. sotanisse

    Everyone should google the urban dictionary definition of "santorum". It's a pretty apt description. Now we just need to work to get "romney" equally defined.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • Jerry

      Look up Obama. hehehehe

      April 10, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  18. Ace

    Maybe pack up and leave our secular, capitalistic republic?...sorry people, that's what we are and with support of the 1st Amendment that's what we will STAY!

    April 10, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Martin

      Let's hope you're right!

      April 10, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  19. trollol

    Santorum was doomed when he made it a priority to take my p0rn away!

    April 10, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  20. HenryMiller

    "...some religious conservatives wonder how to proceed."

    Proceed directly home–and stay there.

    The country doesn't need authoritarian, self-righteous, bigots trying to intrude themselves into everyone's private affairs.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • Brian in IL

      We have that in the White House now. What's your point?

      April 10, 2012 at 8:56 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.