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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. NATHAN WIMBERLY

    They followed a nutjob so they need to fade away like he does .

    April 11, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  2. NL

    It would be fine with me if they just stayed home.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  3. EdR

    People could live with Bush.. but they can't live with Obama? There a lot of very twisted minds in this country.

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

      Speaks volumes doesn't it!?

      April 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • pat carr

      I understand criticizing obama but all the hate is weird

      April 11, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  4. ManWithThe1000PoundBrain

    Research: 1. Children with low IQ's more often grow up to become conservatives 2. Lazy thinkers = conservative See the following links.
    http://psp.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/03/16/0146167212439213.abstract?rss=1
    http://psp.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/03/16/0146167212439213.abstract?rss=1

    April 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • EdR

      Not a lot of research needed there.. just look at the red states vs. blue states. but if your in the mood for research, take the average IQ of each state, and do a simple correlation analysis with % of republican voters. The dumber the state, the more republicans. Its just a fact.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  5. Jim Brody

    They may as well just sit this election out, since they believe Romney is not a real Christian and Obama is the devil incarnate.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • sarah

      I know! Isn't it strange? After all these claims that evangelical conservatives represented the majority of Americans... they pick Romney. I don't care if he's Mormon or not. I was even a bit surprised that they were cheering on Santorum because for as long as I remember Evangelicals do not consider Catholics real Christians and often called them devil worshipers. Funny!

      April 11, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  6. stanton

    WHAT WILL RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVE'S DO?? DISAPPEAR I HOPE ALONG WITH SOME OF THEIR RIGHT WING NUT BELIEF'S!!! THAT THEY KEEP TRYING TO SHOVE DOWN EVERYONE ELSE'S THROAT!!!!!!

    April 11, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • pat carr

      LOL that's right. Poor thngs. now they won't be able to persecute gay people like they used to

      April 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  7. blondie

    Who cares WHAT religious conservatives do. How about continue the uneducated, xenophobic hypocracy and the war mongering bigoted hate messages. That seems about all the christian fundamentalists are capable of.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  8. troll

    http://m5.paperblog.com/i/16/166411/internet-trolling-the-anti-social-network-L-yJogxa.jpeg

    April 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  9. lll

    Santorum said his god told him to run. What does this mean? Is Santorum turning his back on his god's wishes? Did his god change his mind?

    Or was it all delusion from the beginning?

    April 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Primewonk

      The funny thing is – his god also told Bachmann, Perry, and Cain to run. This would lead one to consider that –
      These folks god is a moron who can't make up his mind – or
      These folks god actually has a killer sense of humor, and right now is telling Abraham, "Hey, Abe, pull my finger!" – or
      These folks god is schizophrenic, and can't remember who all he told to run – or
      All these candidates are simply nutters.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Too Bad

      It's tragic that a whole segment of intelligent, educated, willing-to-serve people are in essence barred from running for office because they are atheist/agnostic.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • sarah

      God was testing him. Like Jonah and the whale. Set him up to humble him. Now he's a better person. Yep.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  10. Damian

    Oh please!!!! Everyone knows the Evangelicals hate Catholics and pretty much thinks everyone is evil.
    The last thing we need is a bunch of crazy religious nuts running things. I'm not anti-religion and Christian myself I just don't think it should over take politics and that social issues should be the main concern. Economy first!!!!!

    April 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  11. Guester

    Gay rights is just a distraction and so is abortion used by the so called religious Right to coerce Christians to support them when in fact they do less of what the Bible actually teaches than the Left.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Damian

      Guester that's an excellent observation. I believe that is true.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • erica

      True that. As a former Evangelical Conservative I have to sadly agree:(

      April 11, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  12. Scholar

    The argument that he is not a Christian but a member of a sect will continue by some. He may need to make a speech similar to that of JFK who separated his religion from political views in order to get elected.

    The albatross of Romneycare will continue to influence voters who are against the AHCA. This influence will ramp up significantly

    April 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  13. ga7045

    Who cares? Maybe they should try to run their churches and not everyone else's lives? But they love to cry that they are losing religious freedom, when they really just try to tell other people what "freedoms" they should have in their personal lives. They have lost the principles of Jesus a long time ago. Churches are now run by hate, as evidenced by every hateful word they say about anyone non christian. what is the difference between christians and the taliban? both use religion to justify hate and murder. Jesus has left the building and Christians are more and more bigoted.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  14. Godfrey

    They should break off and start the Theocratic Party.

    It worked for Iran.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  15. hollando

    They are called religious nutcases because that's what they are. They'll go into prayer for the next few months and ask for forgiveness and vote for Romney in the end. Their main reason is that they hate Obama and will vote for anyone or anything, even a serpent.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  16. JT

    “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,”

    Wow...not voting for someone who thinks we all should have rights and liberty just like Christians have. Can you not be any more evil.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Keith

      If they're in America, they already have the SAME rights as the Christian does.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • blondie

      Oh really? The right to MARRY?

      April 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • QS

      Conservative politicians exploit the hatred their base feels toward the gay community in order to garner votes.

      And the base laps it up like it's been starving for more hate from its leaders....only, to the rational people in the world, they aren't starving, they are gluttons of hate.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Primewonk

      @ Keith – so a gay person has the right to marry the person the love? Can a gay person in Texas get civil "unioned " – since they amended their state consti.tuition to spefically exclude gay folks from being allowed to have civil unions?

      April 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  17. An Agnostic

    I'm confident the religious right of the GOP will ask their invisible man in the sky and will listen - in vain - for answers that will never come.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • Guester

      There is a difference in being an atheist and being an agnostic you know.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  18. Mac Smith

    Thanks Tom.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  19. street462

    what should the extreme right evangelical wing of the republican party do now???? they should prey.... thats all they are good at.... There extremism has splintered the party and as a moderate "wacko" from california they no more represent me than a muslim extremist represents kareem abdul jabbar. go back to your church and stay there... let the moderate majority try to repair your "political apocalypse"..

    April 11, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • GodPot

      "they should prey...."

      They have been, for thousands of years, preying on the weak, the uneducated, the poor and the confused, asking the least able to afford it for their last shekel in order to prove their faith, all while spending the ill gotten gains on gilded Churches, finery, fancy homes and fancy cars because they, er... God deserves it...

      April 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  20. tom

    I guess the religious right will have to do what they do best – pray. Pray for strength that they don't puke when they vote for Mitt . The only other option is no vote, which essentially is a vote for President Obama, again for them no choice.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:00 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.