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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. Cheeseburger

    A life without God or as many here call it "an imaginary friend." Hmmm. For them, a self-sentence to a life without faith and belief sounds like an empty life indeed. Ever try believing in God as you see him? You don't have to follow or agree with organized religion, or at least, not all of it.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • northern light

      "You don't have to follow or agree with organized religion, or at least, not all of it."

      Why agree to any of it......to what purpose ....to what end..??

      April 10, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • WoWT

      Assuming that religion MUST improve a persons life is delusional at best.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Ken

      Hey Cheeseburger. You're stsement says it all "Ever try believing in God as you see him?". Never did see him even when I went to church.

      April 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • griz5106

      Cheeseburger: I am a dyed-in-the-wool freethinker, a bit older than middle age and have had, and continue to have, an extremely fullfilling life.

      April 11, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  2. David

    Perhaps we can load them onto a boat and send them to Australia. In fact it sounds like a good fund rasing cause sending conservative christians to the land down under. Hell, it worked for the Wings of Eagles moving jews to Isreal.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • sam

      What do you have against Australia?

      April 10, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  3. dowdotica

    why am i laughing so hard right now? think of it, president Mittens, vice president, san skrotom, and secrtary of state, eye of newt!!!lol its not over yet folks! they will pull someone out of the wood work.....

    April 10, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Alpa Chino

      I hear the pitter patter of crazy Palin feet as she suddenly decides God needs her to run...

      April 10, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  4. Mark

    LOL like they are a monolithic hord moving in unison like democrats ie unions, AA, the uneducated class, and high earning entertainment libtards................

    April 10, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Cheeseburger

      I know Republicans in AA.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Natalie Neilsen

      This from the party that rejects science, and believes the earth in 6,000 years old...And you can't spell, either.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Elaine Cantalupo

      Your god Reagan was a Hollywood entertainer and so was his wife. So what are you trying to say, only goptard/teaturds are good for you?

      April 10, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Margaret

      Reagan was also a union leader.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  5. Joseph

    Where do religious conservatives go?

    Hopefully back to there tents.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  6. AZ Wildcat

    Where do religious conservatives go? How about a good old fashioned Jonestown mass suicide.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  7. Answer

    How will they bare the shame of losing to a cult? Poor christians. XD

    April 10, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  8. jimmy castelanno

    Is it really a must that the Republican nominee and our President be some religious zealot?

    April 10, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  9. Res Ipsa Loquitur

    Where do religious conservatives go?
    How about Afghanistan. There are lots of guns, home-school/no-school whatever, few educated elite (according to the CIA factbook, overall literacy rate 28.1%!) ladies know their place and if they don't, well you know . . . there aren't any laws that prevent you from putting them in their place, and best of all . . . small government made up of religious conservatives, Weeeeee!

    April 10, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Joseph

      Somalia is really their shangri-la, no government and no regulations!! Somalia is the appropriate utopia for these types.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Linda

      How about you go to a different country.....one that wasn't founded by religious conservatives. One where the government can tell you what your rights are, instead of enjoying your God given rights. Do you really think that the founding fathers had envisioned this society with no morals, such as the one we are living in today? Or a government that tells you that you HAVE to provide a certain good or service to others against your will? You people need to wake up, because it's not just the religious people that are going to be living in a hell soon....we all will be, once dictator Obama is done with us. Mark my words, make fun of them all you want, but you won't be laughing in 4 more years!

      April 11, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • Big Jilm

      Thomas Jefferson was not a religious conservative. The liberal/conservative paradigm didn't exist back then as it does now. Times change, if you haven't noticed. And your god believe has zero to do with morality. Our founding fathers committed genocide to acquire land and resources, exploited slavery, and didn't allow women to vote (immoral) and you want to return to those "moral" days? You seriously want to return to a Theocracy where only rich white land-owners had the right to vote?! When it was ok to beat your wife and children? Me thinks you need to read a little bit of history to see we have actually developed better morals as time has gone by. Read about the morals of the Middle Ages, you know...when all Western nations were in fact a Theocracy. Even you would have been burned at the stake there Linda because I'm sure what you classify as a 'good christian' wouldn't have sufficed. And you're incredibly insulting to those who are completely moral who don't follow your exact religion, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and non-believers. I've met people of all walks of life and of many different religions and their morality seems to be independent of their religious upbringing.

      And it's funny you call your fellow christian, Obama, who is Lutheran and has been for most of his life as a dictator. Maybe you define dictator differently than the rest of the world because wanting everyone to have affordable healthcare w/o destroying one's life savings is not being a dictator! Oh noooes! Woe is me, my president wants a healthy population so that must mean he's an evil dictator. Do you live in Bizarro World or what? Read some history about some real dictators. Oh and in four years I'll expect you to apologize and retract your conspiracy demonization misinformed prophecy like a good honest christian as I'm 100% sure our country will be just fine.

      Now be a good christian conservative and log off the computer and get back to work cooking a turkey pot pie while your man watches the game! C'mon now, practice what you preach and voluntarily give up your right to vote since you're so nostalgic for the "good ol' days" illusion.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Pips

      The country was founded on fleeing the Pope and the Church of England in Europe. People wanted to practice religion as they saw fit, not as someone told them how to practice it. USA was never founded on conservatism. It was 100% progressives wishing to move forward from the restraints of their European lives.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • Linda

      Hey Big Jilm...where in my post do I say I am Christian? How do you know I even have a religion at all? If you think our morals have improved, then I guess your idea of morals differs from my idea of morals. I can see a big decline in morals just since I was born 40 some years ago. The people that came here were not fleeing the Pope. They were fleeing the King of England, because he was imposing HIS religion on the rest of the country. I have no problem with people having affordable health care, but I do have a problem with the president acting as a KING or dictator, whatever you want to call him and telling US what we have to provide to others.

      To quote Thomas Jefferson, “I have always said, and will always say, that studious perusal of the sacred volume will make us better citizens.” Sacred volume, meaning bible.

      Health care aint working so well in Canada when they have to come here for health care. I know, because I live in a border state and work in health care. See it all the time. Yes, it's great they all have health care when they can get it. Problem is that it isn't always readily available and their care is horrible. Hope that doesn't bother you when The Great Obama's health care kicks in!

      April 11, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  10. lucky

    at one time this country seperated church from state. now one party celebrates its marriage

    April 10, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • northern light

      "one party celebrates its marriage"

      Ya ....but they cheat on each other....

      April 10, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  11. Wally D

    Mitt attends church weekly and Christ is the center of that religion. He is probably more "Christian" than many of the politicians claiming to be "Christian".

    He is just a Christian with a Harvard JD and MBA and a brilliant businessman. This may frighten uninformed or misinformed evangelicals.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      But Mitt's Christ is a fake Christ. Not the Christ of the Bible.

      April 11, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  12. Da Bears!

    “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.
    -

    Well sir. Your alternative is and should have always been Obama. Good day!

    April 10, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  13. John B

    They go to: Heaven, Hell, or most likely just cease to exist as does everyone else.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  14. Debbie

    I suggest they go live in Vatican City a soverign theocratic state.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  15. Paul

    What do conservatives do? They either don't vote or they write in a conservative candidate in the general election. That's my plan.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Paul

      None of the republican candidates were or are worthy of my vote as a conservative.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  16. magdaleine

    No one should be surprised by this, it just goes to show you that you cannot impose your personal religious agenda and expect a country who is tolerant of all religions to go along with it. Secondly, he is not presidential material. Quick to anger, runs on tangents during his speeches, and is very narrow thinking. He has no objectivity, and for someone to have these qualities as president, is very dangerous!!! Isn't it strange that even Catholics, myself included, did not buy his hype, but evangelicals did?? Shafted by his own religion is a RED flag!!!

    April 10, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  17. pablo

    i love jesus. i love santorum. i love the god. i love to lie. Santorum and his disciples can take a long walk off a short pier. dummies.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  18. tokuiten

    I hope they leave politics for good and keep to themselves for the rest of their lives. We've just proven that not only do Americans not want a theocrat as POTUS, even his own party doesn't want a theocrat as their nominee. If they had any sense, they'd take it as a sign to stay out of politics for good.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  19. nolimits3333

    The religious conservatives are going to h ell.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  20. No one

    Where should religious people go?
    Well I hear hell is warm this time of year.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:13 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.