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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.

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“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. One one

    Well, Santorum climed that god called on him to run, I guess god just told him to get out.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  2. AgrippaMT

    Where do religious conservatives go? Well, they are certainly welcome to go to Hell.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Dave

      You know what's more annoying than a vocal religious conservative? A so-called "enlightened" Liberal that has ALL the answers. Why not tone down the anti-religion rhetoric and accept that not everybody believes (or dis-believes) the way you do? That's what's wrong in the US now: too many people think that THEY'RE right and everybody else is wrong.

      April 10, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  3. Loathstheright

    Where should religious conservatives go? Try Mars. get the crazies off this planet.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  4. Pilgrim1

    Certainly not on the Mormon Express!!

    April 10, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  5. RC

    Thou shalt not mix religion with government. And to be fair and as a professional courtesy, government should not mix with religion.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  6. Aezel

    Dear Religious Conservatives,

    In case you didn't hear us the first time, get the f*** out of our bedrooms, doctor's visits, and marriages.

    Sincerely,
    The Rest of America

    April 10, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Axel Greese

      And schools. And government. And judicial system.

      April 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  7. robert frost

    Go to H E L L

    April 10, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  8. JT

    What are they doing in the picture? Are they having a seance? Christians can be so creepy.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • reason

      They are all pretending to talk to an imaginary super friend who told Santorum to run and grants religious people's wishes like winning nominations.

      April 10, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Jason

      Jut praying for him.

      April 10, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  9. Steve

    Oh dear, where will all the fundies go??!! With a mormon and an athiest/muslim/socialist as their choices on the ballot, hopefully they will just STAY HOME!!

    April 10, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  10. Realist

    Where do the radical Christians go? Back to their churches, and homes, and other places where I support the practice of their religion. I certainly cannot support it in government or politics in any form, and as such, I am relieved that Santorum is now off the radar. Praise Geebus.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  11. tafugate

    preferably conservatives would all go to the middle east, or somewhere far, far away.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  12. reason

    Instead of trying to find another religious candidate these zeolots should be keeping their religion out of politics!

    April 10, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  13. MrHighMighty

    Would "evangelical" conservatives rather vote for an admitted Non-Christian Republican, or for a Christian Democrat they think is Muslim? My oh my, what a corner they have painted themselves into. WWJVF?

    April 10, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  14. Dave

    I'm tired hearing about the so-called "evangelical vote." We live in a DEMOCRACY, not a theocracy. That means that everyone gets a say, and more often than not nobody gets it all their way. While evangelical values are just fine for one's own personal life, these people need to realize AND accept that not everybody shares their values and they need to stop holding out for "all our way or nothing." Democracy is about compromise...not about forcing others to accept your own views. If you want a 100% religion-centered nation, move to Iran. And for the record, I consider myself a Christian...and my faith teaches me to be tolerant and accepting of others...but I'm also a pragmatist in my secular life. Go Mitt!

    April 10, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Rhonda

      No one is trying to force you into anything. But we are being forced into giving free birth control. How about free condoms while you're at it. The federal government is not supposed to be involved in our personal lives with things like birth control. Come ON!!!

      April 10, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  15. SurelyUjest

    Those evangelicals and fundamentalists who found that Santorum was the guy who fit the bill, may ( I doubt it though) use more than 2 issues to decide the future of the free world by. Abortion and How much you believe or what GOD you believe in is Nobody's business. Regardless of what you believe, it is not our job to go out and preach as a politician because it is Un American to preach as a candidate. Look at Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Woodrow Wilson and many many more presidents to get anything done in Maryland they left religion and the marriage out of politics.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  16. Ricky

    All these folks should convert to Buddhism. The world would be far better off for it!

    April 10, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  17. Colin Welch

    Let's face it, they'd vote for Hitler before they'd vote for a black man.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • Rhonda

      I thought Herman Cain was black..

      April 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  18. Doc M

    I have to laugh at these so called "Christians" who'd rather vote for someone who will keep the corporate coffers flowing vs. someone who does what he can to support the middle class and lower. Aren't Christians suppose to follow Christ who cared deeply for the well-being of others? What a farce! The only one who understands the middle class and who has fought for them is Obama. btw...he did not start the two wars or support the tax breaks that have led to our economic downfall, but he did at least stem the bleeding of 750,000 jobs per month that were happening at the end of the Bush Admin.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Rhonda

      He has raised the deficit higher than any other president in history....

      April 10, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  19. Ken Margo

    Here's a new idea. Pick the best candidate. This crap about christian conservative is another way of saying "vote for the white guy." President Obama has not cheated on his wife, never been divorced, had children AFTER he got married. Yet people question his christianity. Yet Newt "Benny Hill" Gingrich gets a pass and he cheated on TWO wives. Why don't the bigots simply say they want a white guy in the white house.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Doc M

      Because they just can't get themselves to openly admit they're bigots, that's why.

      April 10, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Rhonda

      If you think this is about race and skin color, then YOU are the bigot. It's about all the baby Socialism steps that Obama is taking. It's about having someone in office who isn't a Muslim sympathizer. It's about turning our country back around by putting a Patriotic, God fearing, God loving candidate in office, all of which we all know Obama isn't.

      April 10, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • spockmonster

      you really think putting religion into office is "putting the country back on track?". Religion has no part in this country and it's government. Religion has been the source for slavery, murder, torture, and the repression of progress for thousands of years. crawl off and die already. There is no difference between jews, christians and muslims, they all have the same god and the same zest for control and killing.

      April 10, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Rhonda

      No one is trying to put religion into office. The fact is that a God fearing God loving candidate who is trying to please God, is more than likely going to try to please the people, and is more than likely going to be a Patriotic American who loves this Country. This country is going down the toilet.......It needs to turn around and get back on course....

      April 10, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Help Me, Rhonda

      It's amazing! Rhonda, I don't know you, where you live, what you do in your life or anything else about you, but I hate everything you say, and probably everything you stand for. How someone could come off so mean, ignorant, racist, and stupid in just a few short posts is beyond comprehension. You say I have to "fear and love god" otherwise I'm not patriotic and I don't love my country? Our President is unpatriotic?
      The only thing I see "going down the toilet" is my imagined picture of you, a true poster-child for hate.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  20. spockmonster

    Anyone who believes in the Abraham-as-god story is an idiot with violent tendencies.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • petemg

      Many of us do not believe Abraham was a god. Where did you get that idea. Besides do you have a god of wealth that you worship?

      April 10, 2012 at 6:18 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.