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Right Turn
Posted at 02:04 PM ET, 12/20/2011

Santorum as the evangelical alternative?

Rick Santorum, who has received a series of endorsements in Iowa, got another boost today. The Des Moines Register reports: “Two Iowa conservative Christian leaders this morning endorsed Rick Santorum for president – and asked two of their other top choices to join forces with him so that evangelicals here don’t dilute their votes. Family Leader CEO Bob Vander Plaats and fellow activist Chuck Hurley personally endorsed Santorum, but said the seven-member board itself will remain neutral.” The division within the organization is a telling reflection of the division among evangelical voters.

Opinion is mixed on the impact of Vander Plaats’s endorsement. Some in the state consider him a gadfly with a limited following. A Republican state party insider says Vander Plaats is “not as big as he thinks he is, but big enough to give Santorum a couple percentage points worth of media coverage. Santorum was always going to get mid-to-high-teens regardless of if [Vander Plaats] endorsed or not. [Santorum’s] been working it and has a phenomenal grassroots team here.”

Others put more weight on the endorsement. Craig Robinson of the Iowa Republican e-mails me: “It’s a big get for Santorum. First of all, Vander Plaats was Mike Huckabee’s top guy in Iowa. Second, Vander Plaats is a champion of many social conservatives. He ran a strong campaign against Terry Branstad in 2010, then led the campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court Justices.”

At least in the context of a series of endorsements, I tend to think this is a boost for Santorum, especially as voters and party insiders fret about a potential win by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.). There is certainly a segment of the conservative base in Iowa that is not yet prepared to fall in line behind Mitt Romney, is fearful of Newt Gingrich and thinks Paul’s foreign policy is a disqualifier. These could well have been Mike Huckabee voters in 2008. To the extent Santorum can begin to collect these voters, he stands a good chance to edge out Texas Gov. Rick Perry and, if he can really turn out his supporters, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

That said, you could imagine the top four vote-getters on caucus night being Paul, Romney, Gingrich and Santorum or a very different batch, say Paul, Romney, Bachmann and Perry. At some point the race will be decided by ground organization and enthusiasm. If so, then both Bachmann and Santorum will do well.

By  |  02:04 PM ET, 12/20/2011

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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