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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. paul

    Its amazing how many Republicans have said anybody but Obama and thats what Romney has to hope for. Makes me wonder if Charles Manson got parolled this summer and threw his hat into the ring how many of their votes would he get. Interestingliy I don't think I've heard any African American Republicans (they do exist) say anybody but Obama. Is this a racial thing?

    April 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  2. bigfoot

    For Christian(sort of) conservatives it has come down to a choice between a black man and a Mormon which is indeed a NIGHTMARE scenario. For ME, it is absolutely hilarious and I will not stop laughing anytime soon. Certainly not in November.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  3. JiminNM

    Vote for Ron Paul; that is what Americans will do.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  4. Wastrel

    It's real simple, "religious conservatives". Keep religion out of politics, and everything will be fine.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  5. Nii

    Every religion in a secular country must b allowed 2 exhibit tive behavior while the govt prevents -tive behavior which stem from bigotry. Banning words in curricula, removing 10 Commandments, Banning prayer in schools, etc is taking it overboard. I went to a Catholic school n never said the rosary

    April 11, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  6. Mike

    "“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."

    Then why did the GOP waste all that blood, sweat, tears and treasure over the past year?

    April 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  7. Mbane18

    Glad CNN used the word "Evangelical" instead of Christian. I say this because Christianity shares oposite values of Republicans and conservatives. Christianity is a socialist religion – helping those in need, leaving material pocessions behind, sharing what you have and so on. Jesus would never tell anyone that their problems are not his or that he would not help anyone because they were not financially successfull. Evangelicals on the other hand would do all that while hiding behind a bible.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • YoJimbo

      Republicans have successfully put blinders on evangelicals and other Christians so they can only see two issues: abortion and gay rights–other issues be damned.

      April 11, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Russ

      @ Mbane: only one political system is advocated in the Bible: Monarchy.

      One King: who tells his subjects whatever he wants, whenever he wants...
      and then he chooses to die for them.

      April 11, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • bigfoot

      Well put, dude.

      April 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  8. dawn1257

    It could be the eventual undoing of the modern Republican party is at hand. I've read other blogs that indicate these religious fruitcakes are going to sit on the side this election cycle and not vote. GOOD! They can now go out and create their own Religious And Theocrats (RATs) party and quit pretending to be what they aren't........republicans!

    April 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  9. John

    For religious conservatives (whichI think I am) the alternative is the godless Obama. If you are conservative and religious, I suggest you get everyone you know to vote for Mitt.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Mbane18

      How can ou be conservative and religious? WHat religion would that be?

      April 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • YoJimbo

      And you know he's godless how...?

      April 11, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • JiminNM

      No way Jose! It's Ron Paul all the way. Obama will be elected by those who vote for him, not by those who vote for someone else even if that someone else is not Romney.

      April 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Mortalc01l

      So a Man that has gone to the same CHRISTIAN church for the last 20+ years is Godless in your opinion? You people are utterly deranged and without any shred of decency. Obama IS A CHRISTIAN... Deal with it. you sanctimonious, judgmental bigot !

      April 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Cousin Ned

      he's a muslin, so he aint godless, he just don't believes in the right God

      April 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  10. bfpiercelk

    Die in a fire.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  11. Nate

    Why cant we just break up into 10 mid-size nations, go to our own little corners and live how we chose. Obviously the federal system and states rights are broken.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • JiminNM

      Count me in on that one.

      April 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  12. YoJimbo

    “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. What's the problem, Obama isn't Christian enough for these people of faith? It's pathetic to me how an entire religious base has been so distracted by two issues (abortion and gay rights) that they feel they must automatically support Republicans, regardless of their position on other issues. I don't know, but it seems to me that if Jesus were alive today he'd be supporting the candidates who were interested in providing for the weak, poor, hungry, and sick.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • JiminNM

      But he would make that an individual responsibility and would not support theft from others to achieve the noble goal.

      April 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • frwiseguy

      I think Jesus would support the candidate that didn't support the murder of millions of babies via abortion. I find it funny that anyone who doesn't support abortion is labeled 'a religious nut'. You would think it would be common sense to protect against the murder of millions of defenseless humans but apparently not. The Nazi's killed somewhere between 11 to 17million people in concentration camps. We all agree that was one of the worst atrocities in mankind's history. Yet the number of abortions in the US (45 million in the years between 1973-2007) draws no outcry. The few who speak out against it are labeled as religious nuts.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • sam stone

      frwiseguy: i find it amusing that the anti-choice rhetoric calls it murder when it is clear that nowhere in this country is it murder.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  13. Ken

    Religious conservatives have three choices. (1) Avoid the election or avoid voting for Romney and allow Obama to win, (2) Find and support another conservative candidate to run as an independent thus splitting the conservative votes away from Romeny thus allowing Obama to win, or (3) Support Romney, actively participate, and do your best to get Obama out of office. It's that simple folks. From a conservative point of view which candidate is better, Romney or Obama. Romney has some baggage you don't like, I admit that. But if you run off and sulk because you couldn't get the candidate you wanted, it's as good as voting for your worst choice (Obama). So suck it up.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • JiminNM

      Vote for the person you respect and believe should be President, not for someone crammed down your throat by the corrupt process. Otherwise, you are indeed wasting your vote. Integrity is more important than "sucking up" to a person you don't believe should be elected.

      April 11, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  14. Lvphnx12

    So sick and tired on constant stupidity. The church is a waste of human life.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  15. Babs

    What a waste of time and money to even hold an election in 2012.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  16. J Wilson

    They should go ahead and drink the Kool-Aid. It's time now.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  17. Stuck in the Middle

    The christian taliban should pause a moment in the wake of the Santorum debacle and realize that their message has no place in the United States of America.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  18. Nii

    Technically speaking a secular country accepts n respects the various religions but does not favour one above the other. What atheists are doing is promoting their idea of what America shd be n that brings out the worst elements in the Evangelicals to fight back. We won't have that in Ghana/Sweden.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      So what is the athiest "idea of what America shd be "?

      April 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • J Wilson

      No but you'll sell minerals to Nazi Germany for them to use against Innocent people. Sweden provided Germany with a major portion, in some war years up to 90-100%, of the iron ore needed for weapons and armoured vehicles and ball bearings.
      Sweden also allowed German soldiers to make 250,000 trips across its territory to reach Finland in order to fight against Soviet occupation forces, technically. We won't have that in the USA

      April 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  19. paul z.

    Mitt doesn't have to worry about winning over the evangelicals because they have no one else to vote for. If they stay at home without voting it will only guarantee an Obama win. This self made connundrum looks good on them.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • FormerMarineSgt

      Ah yes, Paul Z, but most/many of the evangelicals cannot stand voting for a (oh my god..) mormon...

      That blindly bigoted way of thinking will drive away as many evangelicals as will actually vote for him.

      And all that will do is help Obama win by reducing the votes for Romney.

      April 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  20. Independent

    In November, everyone will get an opportunity to vote for the loser of their choice, then we can all sit back and watch the train wreck.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:27 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.