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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. jon

    That's an easy one, we go for Romney...did you think it would be Obama?

    April 10, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  2. phearis

    Religious Conservatives? Say what they really are, everyone already knows.... Nutball Christians.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  3. Newt Gingrich

    SANTORUM SUPPORTERS, GO TO THE REAL CHRISTIAN CONSERVATIVE...R-O-N P-A-U-L!!!

    R-O-N P-A-U-L!
    2012!!!

    R.O.N P.A.U.L
    R.E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N

    April 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Sarah Palin's Amazing Performance With A Donkey!!!!

      Yes, do that. A nice split vote like that won't help Obama at all. Good thinking.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Newt Gingrich

      Hey genius, explain how he's a split vote?

      RON PAUL IS NOT A SPLIT VOTE FOR OBAMA! He's still a REPUBLICAN CONTENDER.
      The race is NOT over! RON PAUL is going to win in TAMPA!
      IT'S ALL ABOUT DELEGATES, AND THE MEDIA'S TOTAL IS A LIE!!!!!!!!!!!! A BIG FAT LIE!!!!!
      Do your research and quit being ignorant. Thanks

      April 10, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Sarah Palin's Amazing Performance With A Donkey!!!!

      Yes, and in 2000 Ralph Nader didn't deflect votes from Gore in Florida, putting George Worst Bush and Darth Cheney into office or anything.

      Go for it. A vote for Paul is a vote for Obama.

      April 10, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  4. What puzzles Pipe-Dreamer

    My Pipe does ever come with a male and female concoction,,,,, care to take a dare?

    April 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  5. MaryM

    Good Question. Ask them. To a Christian OR a Mormon. LOL this will be fun to watch

    April 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  6. sotanisse

    Solution to our financial woes:

    1) Tax churches.

    2) Require 30 years (or more) of service from military personnel, so we aren't paying out pensions to thousands of people at age 38 until they die.

    3) Create a social medical system, with NO concept of insurance. And, pay physicians what they deserve - a fair wage commensurate with experience and skills - NOT 15 times the median income. Afterall, a medical degree is a glorified Master's degree; there's a reason they call it "practicing" medicine.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  7. Mitt Romney

    GO TO R-O-N P-A-U-L!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    R-E-V-O-L-U-T-I-O-N!

    R-O-N- P-A-U-L!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 10, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Here Comes The Sun

      Paris Hilton has a better chance of being elected.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Mitt Romney

      I'm Mitt Romney, your favorite candidate. Do the right thing, vote Ron Paul.
      Thanks a bunch!

      "Oh beautiful, for spacious skies..."

      April 10, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  8. Democracy

    The evangelicals need to realize they have had a chance to voice their opinion and it did not move the needle at a national level. They should go home, everyone is tired of them anyway.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Here Comes The Sun

      The Tea Party has floundered as well. Maybe the tide has finally turned away from the insanity of Limbaugh division. We definitely need the parties to start working together more for the greater good, compromising, thinking of everyone and not just the special interests.

      Won't happen, of course, but it's a happy thought.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • nugun

      No we didn't...

      Most of the country hasn't had a chance to vote yet. Same as the last Primary in 2008. We had like 40 candidates and ended up with two choices before much of the country even got an opportunity to voice their opinion.

      The system is quite rigged against the people.

      PS – Congratulations President Obama on your re-election.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Mitt Romney

      GO TO RON PAUL!!!

      April 10, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Aezel

      @nugun Nobody is stopping anyone from writing in Santorum on the rest of the primaries. I mean, if there are so many of you and you are all such well informed voters who aren't affected by advertising and publicity, Rick Santorum should still win the nomination without needing to campaign right? He should get 80+% of the remaining delegates right?

      LOL. Feel free to continue living in the fantasy land in your head.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  9. Realist

    It really says something about the Republican party when they're so full of hate that they'll vote for a man who belongs to a cult, believes in a space god, and wears magic underwear–all because they can't stand a black president...who happens to have been one of the best presidents in my lifetime. Honestly, look at the mess he's had to clean up, left by W. This countries economy was in a shambles. Now it's actually running somewhat decently. What a loathing, vile bunch, conservatives are.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Robert P

      Well said! Couldn't agree more.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Michael

      What loathing, vile bigotry against the beliefs of Mormons. You don't have to like Romney's politics. Don't disparage his religion.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Veritas

      All religions are cults and believe in space gods...not only mor(m)onism

      April 10, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • I know them

      I see right through them. We can stop him. I too would rather have Obama than a satan worshipper. All Christians must stick together and stop this now. He will will turn the White House red in cult worship. Do not stop trying to get Mr. Santorum back pray for him. Christianity only will survive with a Christian President. Email santorum and let's get him back to save it before Obama Or the cultist take our country.

      April 10, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  10. Aezel

    They wonder how to proceed? If they haven't figured it out, NOBODY WANTS YOU OR YOU NUTSO CANDIDATES.

    Americans collectively said get the f*** out of our bedrooms, marriages, and doctor visits.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  11. aslan_ia

    Maybe Romney can pick up Palin for the VP spot and then all the conservative evangelicals can have someone crazy to get behind again.

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

      I think they need to go for a blonde this time. Maybe Callista?

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

      I am sure that Sarah will die her hair if it means she gets some more media exposure. She doesn't want to win, just wants the attention so the Mitt ticket would be perfect for her!

      April 10, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  12. sotanisse

    Can't we just give them Texas, and call it a day? Afterall, it's like a whole other country down there, and none of us civilized citizens would really miss Texas or the religious zealots.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • PeterGator

      You give 'em Texas and they'll be at war with Mexico within a week

      April 10, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  13. kgt

    Religious conservatives need to vote for Obama, of course. Obama is the true conservative candidate in the race.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  14. What puzzles Pipe-Dreamer

    Multidiversitalismically are elemental gods,,,,,,,,,,,, "May they Live long and prosper and may the force be with them and may they all fight for the users!"

    April 10, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  15. Tex71

    "Where do religious conservatives go?"
    The way of the dodo, soon enough. Religious conservatives are the source of ALL international violence at this point in history. Territorial conquest is out; empire-building is a thing of the past. All that is left is jihad – and nobody even wants that except an extreme-right minority here in the USA and scattered throughout the Middle East.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  16. Dick Cheney is the smegma of mankind!

    All you "christians" neo-cons voted for the bagger crowd, so put on your brown shirts and boots and start marching the GOP "goose" step now.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Tex71

      Rick...
      Reich...
      Coincidence? I think not!

      April 10, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  17. Enough alreasdy

    Religious conservatives have to reconcile the fact that they do not represent mainstream America, and that their candidate failed because mainstream America is never going to accede to a Theocracy.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  18. bakslider

    Now they will have to vote the guy with the magic underwear. Its gotta hurt

    April 10, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  19. desstro

    Where will they go? To hell.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  20. lefty avenger

    Or when Obama beats Mitt Romney and garners 4 more years, the conservatives christians go to their socialist liberal takeover bomb shelter. It's stocked with Can goods, shotgun shells, twinkies, meds and a few bottles of jack daniels. We'll see them surface with their gas masks in tin foil hats in 2017.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • J.W

      Yeah and Hillary Clinton will probably run in 2016 so then they will have to worry about a woman being president

      April 10, 2012 at 5:43 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.