Washington (CNN) – This weekend's backing of former Senator Rick Santorum by the majority of a prominent group of evangelical leaders has the campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich fighting to limit the fallout.
After three ballots during a meeting Saturday, a majority of the more than 150 attendees to the Texas gathering decided to support Santorum over Gingrich.
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The Gingrich campaign's national co-chairman, former congressman J.C. Watts, was among those attending the gathering. He said the discussions among the leaders was spirited but disagreed with how the decision to support Santorum is being interpreted.
Since it was not a unanimous decision by the evangelical leaders Watts told CNN "it was not a consensus. It was not an endorsement."
Santorum's campaign, however, said it believes the backing of these leaders will be a major boost. Some of the attendees are planning to come to South Carolina to help push Santorum's campaign, help get out the vote and talk to local church activists about why they are supporting him.
"Every indication it will happen. They are mobilizing," Hogan Gidley, spokesman for the Santorum campaign, told CNN. "We are extremely excited and blessed."
Hours after the group's announcement on Saturday, Santorum sent out an email to supporters that said the decision "reinvigorates our campaign" and also asked for donations to help take advantage of the support.
"This has sparked another increase" in contributions to the campaign Gidley said, but he could not provide a specific amount.
Regarding the Gingrich campaign's downplaying of the evangelical leaders' support, Gidley said "that is silly" pointing out 75% of the attendees voted for Santorum and added "the folks who are deriding the endorsement are the people who wanted it the most."
Watts, the Gingrich campaign's national co-chairman, said the attendees agreed not to speak out for 24 hours after the meeting concluded except for a conference call to announce the outcome of the meeting by Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council. On that call Perkins announced a consensus had emerged "around Rick Santorum as a candidate for this group."
On the third ballot, one hundred and fourteen people voted casting 85 ballots for Santorum while 29 went for Gingrich.
After the press accounts started emerging from the meeting, Watts told CNN the Gingrich campaign received phone calls from evangelical activists asking why supporters of the former speaker had abandoned him. So Watts and other Gingrich supporters have mounted damage control to emphasize their support is not wavering.
On Monday, Watts and four other evangelical leaders who had attended the Texas event and are backing Gingrich issued a statement saying their allegiances have not changed. "We were united in principles and values and will remain so. However, there was no consensus regarding a candidate, and those of us who came supporting Newt Gingrich left still supporting Newt Gingrich whole-heartedly." The four others who were part of the statement are influential in the community: George Barna, Jim Garlow, Richard Lee and David Lane. While they said in the statement they respected Santorum and Rick Perry "we believe Newt Gingrich to be the only candidate that has the intellectual strength and the capacity to stop the Left's attack on morality, the economy, basic freedoms and our religious liberty."
Perkins on Saturday said on the conference call "Part of the discussion, and part of the debate going into this, and the invitation to come here, was that you were willing to drop the support for the candidate if we arrive at consensus."
- CNN's Kevin Liptak contributed to this story.
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