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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. Akira

    What will the religious conservatives do? For all I care they can all get raptured, and leave the rest of humanity alone forever.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Theism is not healthy for your sanity and other reasonable things

      Amen. Jesus, if you do actually exist, come down here and take your mouth breathing, hate mongering fan club home already.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Mbane18

      The rapture is an invention of the Evangelical church in the 19th century. It's not part of Christianity.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Gesus

      I have been a life long Republican – fiscal conservative, gun owner, and business owner. I wish the Republicans would get there act together and dump the religious aspects of the party. Remember the separation of Church and State? It drives me nuts that I am sometimes almost embarrassed to call myself a Republican at times.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  2. Diane

    I would suggest people vote for the candidate they feel would be best to be our president. I would suggest people stop voting based on party or race or religion, and start voting on the candidate.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Beth

      Sure. They should look at proposed policies and track record too though. I wouldn't buy a car without looking in its pants.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Beth

      and taking it for a ride, if you see what I mean.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  3. sarah

    Religious conservatives should just... go ahead and start their own party.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Ken78

      Fiscal conservatives (i.e., the selfish) should leave the GOP and join the Libertarian Party where they belong.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • sarah

      See? Obviously they are not all in the same boat.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Akira

      They can call it "The Party Of God". Wait a sec, when you translate that into Arabic, you get "Hezbollah".

      April 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  4. NickZadick

    So is this 2012 or 1612?? These nutjobs are as bad as the Taliban!! brainwashed r3tards!!

    April 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Ken78

      It is the mentally challenged atheists who never ever think deeply about anything and whose belief system is inherentlly inconsistent that are going to take Amerika staright to hell.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • sam

      Ken. Ken, Ken Ken. Where to begin.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • KK Denver

      Ken78: What are you talking about?

      April 11, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  5. Jordan

    Don't really understand...Mitt is a GREAT pick for religious conservatives. He is a great example of a Christian. Look at his family values. He does not smoke or drink and the list goes on...It is because of religious bigotry that religious conservatives will not vote fore him. For some reason it is still okay to have religious bigotry for Mormonism but not for any other religion. It is okay to say I will not vote for him because he is a Mormon but not okay to say I will not vote for him because he is black.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • sarah

      😛 They were never happy with Catholics either. Santorum acted more like an Evangelical than a Catholic which is one of the reasons why he had trouble with the Catholic vote. If there had been a Evangelical candidate, you would have heard all about Santorum's "idol worshiping" religion.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • JustIn

      Romney is very experienced at getting on top of the likes of Santorum and Gingrich as you can see at http://santorum.com, but I'm not sure that he is the right guy to be chasing Obama from behind. I don't think he will get any penetration into Obama's base, and he won't be able to provide much stimulus while handcuffed like that.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  6. coder

    how does religious politics proceed?

    Same as they always have – by creating controversy and stamping out any opposing thought

    April 11, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  7. JustIn

    This soft withdrawal by Santorum doesn't come as much of a surprise given that he hasn't ever been able to get out and on top of Romney, despite a few promising thrusts at Romney in his fairly weak south. Santorum's base has been a pretty small one to come from, and Romney has had his pole deep in position from the start.

    Tea party members are well experienced in today's news at http://santorum.com and will not be surprised by it. The real, actual erection campaign is now underway but Romney is looking pretty flaccid after his exertions on Santorum and puffy Gingrich. He will need to recover some energy after his romp with Santorum et al to have any chance at coming from behind Obama.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  8. Geoff

    Please have a evangelical kool-aid party Jimmy Jones style, its what's best for America

    April 11, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  9. Nii

    I don't know why gay marriage is confused as human rights for gays. Technically, impotent men can't marry either. Nor can eunuchs. Nor can people with several medical conditions. Why is it that two men can marry because it is a "civil/human/gay" right. Leave married couples alone. Enjoy ur rights.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • drinker75

      Whaaat? Impotent men can't marry??? Lol

      April 11, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Baron Gomouse

      Nii was talking about himself and his current animal partner. They don't plan to formalize their already consumated relationship.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • Wanda Yolanda Blonda

      Don't bother trying to make sense of Nii. Your time would be better spent watching Gilligan's Island

      April 11, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • ladyfon

      Not true Nii. Impotent men can marry and their wife can file for divorce for lack of consummating.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  10. sam Yaza

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJwsJXbS_Ok

    April 11, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • sam Yaza

      any questions?

      April 11, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • Death to YouTubers!

      Yes.
      Why the hell can't you just type out what it is that you want to say instead of spamming this blog with cheap videos?

      April 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • Just for that, you get a very annoying video

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teRtooEScy4&feature=related

      April 11, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  11. I'm The Best!

    As a fiscal conservative and social liberal, I never had a candidate to vote for to begin with.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • sarah

      So true.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  12. Bill

    They'll do what they always do; find the cutest, whitest, most innocent lamb- and make it bleed.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  13. ronbry

    The real question is "What will religious bigots do?" Many conservatives who are also Christians have been supporting Romney for some time now.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  14. IndyNC

    I guess ultra conservative evengelicals still don't understand "Love thy neighbor" it doesn't say "love thy neighbor so long as thy neighbor is just like you."

    A good Christian doesn't need to make the law of the land conform to them, if they had any memory they would know the abuses that was caused last time that happened (Reference the "Dark ages" in Euorpean history)

    Sadly these are the very people who are fueling the exodous from the Christian church, rigid and cold men and women who've forgotten to turn the other cheek and judge not lest ye be judged thyself.

    Their holier than thou demeanor does them no favors and they are rapidly becoming the next extremest group on the horizon.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Ken78

      .You forgot to write:

      "I say, as an atheist, that . . . "

      April 11, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • rodneycompton

      Actually Ken, many of us prefer to be called blasphemers or pagans rather than atheists. Thanks for your consideration on this sensitive matter.

      April 11, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  15. dugee

    "white evangelicals'. John Green hit the nail right on its bigoted little head. These people have hijacked the political discourse so far backwards that it would have been out of place in the 1800s. Their fear and non-understanding of everything outside of their own tiny lives has created so many non-existent bogymen who actually pose no threat to them and their way of life. In fact it is they that want to limit the freedoms of others solely because they are not like them.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • closet atheist

      Bingo!

      April 11, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Ken78

      In the 1800s abortion was illegal pretty much everywhere and they lynched gays in some places.

      Just sayin'.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      And they control thirty percent of the poor Republican Party, which might as well just chop off its own head.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Crystal V.

      Agreed! They are welcome to sit out the election, and hopefully a significant number of them will. The GOP should also continue to work very hard to drive as many women away from the party as possible.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  16. Dave Scoven

    Back in the 1600s, they got on boats and went to another country. Just sayin.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • acnj

      i got 10bux. let's start a spaceship fund for these guys!

      April 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  17. NPRJim

    "...his campaign was based not on money spent, but on the pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-freedom message he carried," What a pants load, his message of "pro-freedom" is "do what I tell you to do cause I am religoius" I am glad his evil @$$ is out of this race and I hope he stays home and continues to overpopulate the planet with genetically flawed children.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  18. The Lord of Excess

    For decades I considered myself a fiscal conservative and a moderate on social issues. I happily supported the Republican Party, voted mostly Republican. But in the past 15 years I have been disenfranchised from my own party as fiscal conservatism has nothing to do with being a Republican anymore. Being a dogmatic zealot, being insanely bent on forcing the rest of the nation and world to live in accordance with the skewed positive thought evangelical movement in the US is the fundamental and really only goal of the religious right. That trumps all other party platforms and in fact the Republicans are more than willing to dump America down the drain over social issues. Time and again Wall Street has used this to get whatever it wants, only having to trade a tiny pittance to spend on these social issue crusades, in return for trillions and trillions in exploitative graft ... stolen from the American citizens.

    Hatred, bigotry, ignorance, discrimination on the basis of race, gender, etc. are all hallmarks of the evangelical right in this country. I am not making a comment here about religion overall one way or another. But in the days since the "moral majority" has been deeply involved in politics our nation has taken a terrible turn for the worse. This turn has been the result of trying to force people to live in accordance with a single social view based on a single religion (and a very, very narrowly interpreted view of it at that). This zealotry to the point of insanity has taken America off of the rails. In the name of this skewed view of religion at least in part we as a nation have made many poor decisions. Why should a single religion be able to determine who can and can not get married? Who and for what reason someone can get access to contraception or even have an abortion. These are individual decisions that the government, let alone a church using the government as its mouthpiece, shouldn't really have any say in. The evangelical right has created a philosophical fortress of hypocritical ideas and beliefs that have nothing to do with the Christian faith. It has been a sad day in America and in the world when Wall Street took control of our nation via the Trojan horse of right wing religious hypocritical dogma. Sad times, sad sad times. The saddest and most ironic part of all of this is that this all stems from terrible corruptions of the Christian religion.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      I'm about as financially conservative as you can get, and I want my country strong. But I've got no use for bible-bangers telling me some ghost thinks my hair's too long, or ordering me to go to church and worship some rock or book. The GOP might as well be the Fascist Party now, so I vote with the less conservative group.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Ken78

      @ Bible Clown:

      I'm about as socially conservative as you can get, and I want my country to stand for peace. But I've got no use for selfish moneygrubbers who think they made it all on their own, giving themselves huge tax breaks and sticking it to the poor, and who want our laws to be all about everyone worshipping money and the rich. The GOP might as well be the Fascist Party now.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Patrick

      Your willingness to accept abortion as someone's "choice" rather than the murder of innocents, which it is, just shows how much your belief in Christian principles has slipped. I say that movements such as the "moral majority" have as much right to engage in politics as do those who defiantly scream "separation of church and state" when someone wants to worship in a public place. Movements to defend religious freedom have grown as a reaction to those who actively fight to diminish right of people to adhere to their religious beliefs. Because it is Christianity that is attacked the most, it is natural that it will be Christians that finally have to band together in politics, knowing that not to do so will eventually lead to their religious rights being outlawed altogether in favor of some state approved "religion" that doesn't offend anyone. Maybe you would like that.

      April 11, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • TR6

      Amen

      April 12, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  19. Thisguy

    How can you be pro-freedom if you're pro-life and, "pro-marriage?"

    April 11, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Ken78

      How can you be pro-freedom if you're pro-life?

      Really? I think that life is one of the most important freedoms in life.

      {Rolls eyes and shakes head slowly}

      April 11, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Michael

      When everyone restrain on what all they can do they not only keep their freedom, they also honor others freedom. So freedom is not what yo can do. Russia tried it the way you may mean and it collapsed. We are better than Russia.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Kay

      No one anywhere, anytime can limit or take your freedom away unless you're spinless enough to let them.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  20. drinker75

    It would be really nice if they would go to some island somewhere and drink the koolaid.

    April 11, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      Make it out of seawater.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
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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.