Posted at 11:43 AM ET, 11/22/2011

Iowa conservative group Family Leader won’t endorse Cain, Paul or Romney

A key Iowa social conservatives group announced Tuesday it will not endorse former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney or businessman Herman Cain, but is still evaluating if it would back one of the other candidates.

The Family Leader, which hosted a forum that six Republican candidates attended last Saturday, said in a statement that its board had narrowed its choices of an endorsement to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and ex-senator Rick Santorum (Penn). The statement said the group would not consider endorsing Romney, who the group criticized for skipping its event.

The group said it opted against Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) because he does not support constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and abortion, and said they had concerns about Cain on “life, marriage, foreign policy, and presidential readiness. “ Both Cain and Paul had attended the forum.

Endorsements rarely matter in presidential primaries, but the Family Leader’s views could be influential among the powerful bloc of evangelicals who are expected to comprise more than a third of the voters in the January Iowa caucuses. Many of these voters have long been hostile to Romney, who has not tried to court them this election after unsuccessfully trying during his 2008 campaign. Some have concerns about Romney’s previous support of abortion rights, while others are unwilling to vote for a Mormon candidate.

Bachmann, Gingrich, Perry and Santorum have all aggressively wooed the Christian conservative vote over the last several months. Some social conservative leaders in Iowa want to rally around a single contender and avoid splitting their vote, which might help Romney win the caucuses. But it’s not clear any of the candidates can galvanize voters around them, as they have similar stands on key issues.

The Family Leader has not said if it will eventually endorse one candidate or just stick with what is effectively an anti-endorsement of Cain, Paul and Romney, who along with Gingrich are at the top of most polls of Iowa voters.

“As difficult as this first step proved to be in narrowing the field to four, the next step of final selection and recommendation to our supporters will be tougher. Congresswoman Bachmann, Speaker Gingrich, Governor Perry, and Senator Santorum all have many presidential traits that will serve our great country well,” said Bob Vander Plaats, the group’s president.

By Perry Bacon Jr.  |  11:43 AM ET, 11/22/2011

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