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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. ItSOnLyME

    "Where do religious conservatives go?" – easy: back to church. And keep your politics to yourself and out of the church. You can believe anything you want, and practice any kind of religion you want, but don't presume to force it down my throat. Your religion has no place in politics.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  2. Sirned

    Who would think it Romney a bishop in the Mormon cult a darling of the Christian right....lol

    April 10, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  3. Robert

    Vote third party!

    April 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • i am neat

      or fourth party!

      April 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  4. Tam

    With all this religious and moral control over women that they wanted, how does this work with a "smaller" government they were proposing?

    April 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  5. ALLAMERICAN

    I best option for them is not vote in this election, right now. Team party should be 3rd party for this group.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  6. Seth Hill of Topanga, California

    The Democratic Party seems to represent working people and the poor; the GOP seems to represent business and capitalism. So religious conservatives should form their own political party; then they could nominate candidates who strongly represent conservative religious views. I can't figure out what's wrong with my logic ... ?

    April 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  7. BikerMiker

    It boggles my mind that all of these discussions of the various religions are so prevalent in a presidential campaign. The federal government should be concerned with BIG issues, i..e the economy, the national security, the national infrastructure and solvency of Social Security/Medicare, etc. It is way off base to have the Federal government getting involved in things like abortion, gay rights, peoples personal lives, etc. How can the GOP say they want a smaller Federal government and yet they want the government to pass all kinds of laws (based upon religious doctrine) that tell people how to live their personal lives. It makes no sense!

    April 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • ItSOnLyME

      See, there's your problem right there: "makes no sense." Trying to inject reason, logic, and (heaven forbid) common sense into right wing pseudo-"Christian" politics is pointless. It defies reason, is illogical, and has zero common sense associated with it.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Momof2

      It boils down to the GOP says they are for small government but they really want big government. I am personally ready for a third party that takes the best part of both parties, is moderate, and go with it. I'm over the extremes. It's time for a small budget and less governemnt in our bedrooms.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  8. Big Johnny the Religeous Loon

    How hard can it be to find some other extremist, fascist for you ultra religious nut jobs to vote for? Drink some koolaid, everything will be fine.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Kool Aid

      I am delicious.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  9. TomGI

    "Religious conservatives" have absolutely no business controlling the government either directly or indirectly and 80% of Americans realize it.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  10. Sirned

    Where do Conservatives go? The way they think Iran comes to mind....

    April 10, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  11. Tam

    Where do they go? back into their caves

    Thank goodness this part is over.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  12. Jed

    This is ridiculous! I thought we were voting for a President not a pastor??? Am I wrong by thinking that it's ok if a President doesn't share our religious beliefs? Look at the economy, the housing market, unemployment, and moral values and make a choice. American's will nominate unqualified individuals and bypass others if our focus remains on their religion. Look at who they are not what church they go to.

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

      Amen to that brother, somewhere we forgot about whats important in this country. I'm not saying you should ignore religion entirely but why is this suddenly 90% of what matters instead of maybe 10%?

      April 10, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Jonathan

      I don't know about you, but when I elect someone, its all about trust. Trust in their ability, trust in their promises and trust in their beliefs (whether political, religious or both). I will not elect someone that I can not trust.

      April 10, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  13. Geest

    I have an idea on how they can proceed. Fill in the blank: Go F_ck Y_urs_lv_s

    April 10, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  14. WDinDallas

    Like Ball and Mirtha and all those?

    April 10, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  15. ronbry

    Was the question, "Where do religious conservatives go?" or "Where do religious bigots go?"
    There are plenty of conservatives who are religious and have been supporting Romney all along.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • ItSOnLyME

      I'd still like to know what religion has, in any way, shape, form, or fashion, to do with politics? My friends in Europe are bewildered by this. They neither know nor care one iota about the religious views of their politicians. Is Obama a Muslim or a Methodist? Who cares? The trick is, you keep religion out of politics, so it's an invisible issue. Our problem in this country is busy-body pseudo-"Christians" who feel the need to stick their nose into my business, my daughter's uterus, and my bedroom in the name of their "morality".

      My favorite quote of Gandhi's is "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians – they are so unlike your Christ."

      April 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Religion has its place in politics. People tend to elect people that reflect their beliefs, whether those beliefs are political, religious or both. If you don't have that blending or balance between religion and government, disputes will happen and when you don't have a voice to object or power to influence change, that dispute will esclate to the point where force is necessary to enact a change. History is ripe with examples.

      April 10, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  16. rufus

    Drink some Kool Aid and reorient that nutcase fervor in favor of the real messiah, Prez. Obama.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  17. Richard Cheese

    Where should religious Conservatives go? How about school?

    April 10, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  18. ja

    what religion is it htat these people belong to it seems more evil than anything, grab the spiritual names yet is evil as hell i

    April 10, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  19. Turtleguy

    I would not mind if they all just went away. Go back in their churches and shut the door behind them. Religion has caused more problems, socially, economically and politically throughout history than any other identifiable source.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Janice Greer

      I agree...I frankly think they (religious bigots) show go away. Religions have done more harm than good in this world and are between you and your god.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  20. Squincher

    If Romney becomes the Prez, can we each get our very own planet??

    April 10, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • i am neat

      Always with the handouts...

      April 10, 2012 at 5:31 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.