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Right Turn
Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 01/16/2012

Santorum tries to unify social conservatives

Even those attending the evangelical meeting in Texas this weekend doubted that the 150 attendees could agree on a candidate. A similar meeting among leading social conservatives in Virginia late last year had come to no resolution. There was certainly grounds for skepticism, given that social conservative activists in the past (especially in 2008) could not manage to speak with one voice.

Gary Bauer, one of the attendees and strongest advocates for Rick Santorum at the meeting, e-mailed me last night. “I feel good about going out early and endorsing Santorum. But it was particularly gratifying to make the case for him to the group in Texas and see a solid clear majority come on board.” He left little doubt that it was an overwhelming win for Santorum. “Santorum and [Newt] Gingrich were the only two that had serious support in the beginning of the vote and, as has been reported, with each vote significant numbers moved toward Rick.”

He was gentle in rebuking Newt Gingrich’s attempt to attract some of the limelight. “I don’t fault the Gingrich folks from putting the best interpretation they can on the proceedings. The competitive ‘juices’ are flowing and the stakes are high.”

He is not a fan of continued internecine warfare, urging that “all the contenders should aim their fire not at each other but at the real problem currently in the White House.” Nor does he seem anxious to chase out other candidates. He said, “I also think it is a big mistake for some in the GOP establishment to try to prematurely shorten the race.” As he points out, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) “will not leave under any circumstances.” Better to have some mainstream conservative candidates up there as well, the reasoning goes.

Penny Nance, executive director of Concerned Women for America, did not attend the Texas meeting, although she was present at the earlier failed attempt to pick a consensus candidate. However, the group’s vote was the impetus for her to announce her personal support (not on behalf of CWA) for Santorum. When I spoke with her by phone yesterday she was enthusiastic about the vote by the religious conservative leader, saying, “It is a psychological boost” for Santorum that she thinks will bring volunteers, money and more individual endorsements like her own Santorum’s way. James Dobson, another prominent religious conservative, is expected to announce his support this week.

Nance gives the back of the hand to the idea that the evangelical community’s nod comes too late to make a difference. Pointing to polls showing a large percentage of the South Carolina electorate undecided, she told me, “That vote is not settled.” She predicted Santorum would enjoy a surge “just like Iowa.” However, she doesn’t buy into the idea that Santorum has to come in first to stay competitive, although she does allow that “he has to come in second or third.”

Santorum’s sterling credentials on social issues in and of themselves endear him to Nance’s 500,000 members. However, it is his populist economic message that may seal the deal. Nance told me, “My members are Wal-Mart shoppers. They are not the country club ladies.” (Her average donation is $27.) In that regard she thinks Santorum’s effort to boost middle-income voters and revive manufacturing are on target. Aside from manufacturing jobs themselves, the revival of industrial cities offers the possible influx of young families and the growth of other local businesses, she observes.

Nance sees Florida as the battle royale. She has 22 chapters in that state with about 20,000 members. Should those women decide to lend a hand, Santorum will have a raft of new door knockers, phone bank callers and envelope stuffers in addition to the votes themselves.

If Santorum can broaden his base by grabbing an even greater share of values voters, and also provide an attractive economic message for low- and middle-income voters in key states, he will give Mitt Romney some stiff competition. And that is precisely what the 150 evangelical leaders would like to see. They don’t believe in Romney’s “inevitability.”

UPDATE: Beverly Lahaye, founder and chairman of CWA, has endorsed Gingrich. Her husband and best selling author Tom Lahaye has as well.

By  |  11:00 AM ET, 01/16/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign, Conservative movement

 
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