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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. PumpNDump

    Hopefully, they'll go to remote place and eat their own young and leave the rest of us civilized, intelligent people alone and keep their religious rantings to themselves.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  2. About Bloody Time

    How about that! The Religious Right can't even get the nomination for their own party. Better yet, they have spent months publicly trying to undermine Romney, so they now have almost no sway with him if he gets elected.

    The bulk of the conservatives favor . . . gasp! . . . the moderate candidate! This is a very positive turn of events for America. The more extreme parts of the Right – the Tea Party and the Religious Right – have done poorly recently.

    Good for you, moderate Republicans! Let's get this country back where both sides can compromise, and that Congress does not gridlock, that mutually acceptable deals get done, and that Rush Ranting on the Right and the echo of that on the Left dies its long overdue death.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Devlar

      Conservatives will be forever tainted by courting the religious right and John Birch inspired Tea Party.

      It doesn't help that they've also alienated anyone who makes less than $100k per year or who is an immigrant or who is a woman who don't believe they are breeding-maids for their men or workers who watched their jobs go to foreign countries in the name of wallstreet profits or....ah, you get the picture.

      Conservatives are getting smaller and smaller by the day and they know it.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Jonathan

      "It doesn't help that they've also alienated anyone who makes less than $100k per year"

      Thats funny. I don't even make half of that (30k a year) and I STILL agree with the conservatives. Last time I check, i was not an immigrant, or a woman, either. The problem is half of the country doesn't pay all their taxes. The top 10% pays more than half of the taxes already. I pay about 6k a year in taxes (between state, federal, sales, home and property) and rarely get more than $500 back from taxes (I overpay on purpose to ensure I don't owe).

      People need to get off their as-ses, stop expecting enti-tlements and actually work to improve their life. People that got to the top had to earn their way there at one time and are only still there because they are either smart enough, hard working enough or worse, corrupt enough, to stay there.

      April 10, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  3. lefty avenger

    To hell with 4 More Years of Obama in the bag!

    April 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  4. J

    Religion has been it's own worst enemy in this country. If it were a business, it would have filed chapter 7 already due to how it has treated it's customers. Religion is between an individual and their god. It doesn't need middlemen.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  5. rad666

    Seperation of Church and State thank you.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  6. Steve

    They go to conservative Heaven.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  7. Rick

    Cry, religious nuts, cry
    Cry religious nuts, cryyy....

    Everybody now

    Cry, religious nuts cry,
    Cry, religious nuts cry...
    Cry, religious nuts cry

    April 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Dan

      Grow up pompous little punk.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Rick

      Cry, little Dan cry
      Cry, little Dan cry...

      April 10, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Dan

      Grow up little punk grow up.
      You will be crying in November when Obama is gone

      April 10, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Kool Aid

      DAN

      Y U NO DRINK MOAR?

      April 10, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  8. Cechaz

    "Where do religious conservatives go?" says the headline. Here's a suggestion: continue south until you reach the edge of your flat earth, then take a leap of faith.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Jonathan

      The bible teaches of a sphereical earth and only refers to 'the four corners of the earth' in dreams or visions which are never literal. The 'flat earth' concept was believed by the uneducated masses during the middle ages. Anyone who owned a bible as was educated enough to read it knew otherwise.

      April 10, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  9. What puzzles Pipe-Dreamer

    This "Mormon animation" could be plausible IF it were within the inner Cosmos of Cosmologies where Elohim was conceived by the "elemental gods"! We are nothing more than buildings for these "elemental gods" magnification of life's inner cosmological grandness! "Long live the elemental gods and may the force be with them and may they fight for the users!"

    April 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  10. JC

    Oh no. They have to vote for a mormon. At least he's totally white – as God intended!

    April 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Angela

      And that means they won't have to ask for a birth certificate! Yes indeed!

      April 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Brice

      Either sarcastic or ironic, I can't tell. Romney is part Hispanic and mormon, the religious right must be crapping themselves.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  11. PBM

    I want a commander in chief in the White House, not a moralizer in chief.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  12. Angela

    They will vote for anybody but Obama. even if that means voting for a man who believes JESUS is SATAN'S brother. Yes indeed.

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

      All things were created by God, not just some.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • james

      i beg to differ with this some of us working class people will vote for obama instead of romney. santorum just guaranteed obama a 2nd term. romnay has no concept of what to do. obama may be doing the wrong things for us working people but he does have an idea what to try which is way more than romney has.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Nunya

      Don't forget that Jesus discovered America and preached the gospel to the Native Americans. It's all on those golden plates with Egyptian hieroglyphics on them that Joseph Smith translated with a rock, although when he was challenged to read back what he had originally dictated to a scribe he claimed that God was angry with them for losing the original pages that the scribe hid and he couldn't read back those same pages again. Also, an entire bible made out of gold with multiple versions apparently fit inside a gent's hat.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Jonathan

      "They will vote for anybody but Obama. even if that means voting for a man who believes JESUS is SATAN'S brother. Yes indeed."

      Damn right we will. Anyone is better than the person currently behind the reigns. Doesn't mean we won't take heavily consideration into the person we do vote for. When Romney makes it to the White House, he will have many, many people watching his every move.

      April 10, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  13. NaturallBornCitizen

    They need to go and sin no more.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  14. Devlar

    This is how religious conservatives will proceed:

    The church will tell them who to vote for and they will follow like good little sheep. They will vote for the cultist who isn't a cultist in their own cult but their pastors will tell them to do it anyway.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  15. Zwaks

    I like how the author says, "conservative religious activists...congealed behind the former Pennsylvania senator," as if conservatives are some sort of gelatinous, evil goo. I wonder if that word choice was intentional.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Of course it was intentional. Subtle attacks are the best ways to influence the readers opinion without them realizing it and also serves as plausible deniability if/when someone catches on.

      April 10, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  16. wes

    Religious Conservatives – Quit ruining our country. Santorum bowing out is a victory for freedom and the American way of life. I can think of a place the intolerant "religious" right can go...

    April 10, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  17. John

    Get facts correct. Santorium never got the Catholic vote. The majority of Catholics supported Romney.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  18. just sayin

    Evangelicals represent what is still ignorant in America

    April 10, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  19. josh rogen

    anyone who heard the president pandering to religious groups you would think he was as nutty as they are.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  20. Honest Religious Conservatives Will....

    Vote for Barack Obama, the only equally yoked candidate with the same Christian convictions as they. A vote for Romney here is a vote for darkness, according to the bible. Right?

    April 10, 2012 at 5:27 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.