Campaigns debate impact of evangelical leaders' backing
January 16th, 2012
12:51 PM ET
11 years ago

Campaigns debate impact of evangelical leaders' backing

Updated: Evangelicals' backing gives Santorum major boost

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.

You can follow Kevin Bohn on Twitter @KevinBohnCNN.

Also see:

Paul scores sought after endorsement in South Carolina

DeMint: I will not endorse

Romney nabs Florida endorsement

FIRST ON CNN: Huntsman to drop out

Filed under: 2012 • Newt Gingrich • Rick Santorum
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Truth and Nothing But the Truth

    I don't think these endorsements matter all that much. Mostly a bunch of media hype. Romney will still be the front runner in SC. More influential than endorsements are polls that show Romney beating Obama. Now THAT will sway a lot of voters!!

    January 16, 2012 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  2. Independent_me

    I wonder evangelical Christian "leaders" are do deeply involved in choosing "Caesars" when Jesus himself never got into politics...except the politics of love and compassion toward the poor?

    I wonder why evangelical Christian "leaders" ignore Jesus' teachings about the poor and why they support the doctrine of the wealthy when Jesus clearly said that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven?

    I wonder why evangelical "Christian leaders" hate Obama so much when he clearly tried to do what Jesus did – that is, provide health care to all who need it? (Anyone who came to Jesus for health care got it free of charge, to boot!)...

    I wonder why "evangelical Christian leaders" fight so hard for the unborn but support a political party that cuts aidfor those same children when they are born?

    I wonder why.....

    January 16, 2012 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  3. Thomas

    Is it true they handed out free condoms ?

    It's about time . .

    January 16, 2012 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  4. Phil in KC

    They're all going to say it means nothing – except for Santorum. He'll say it means they should all unite behind him. But he's going to have to win another primary or two for that to happen. Or, more accurately, it will take Gingrich and Perry doing poorly and dropping out.

    January 16, 2012 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  5. GI Joe

    As soon as they say "evangelical" my thoughts go first to "tax them", and second to "hypocricy".

    January 16, 2012 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  6. Henry Miller

    As far as I'm concerned, the endorsement of a bunch of superstitious, self-righteous, busybodies ought to lead to an utter rejection of that candidate. These people are running for President, not Theocrat in Chief.

    January 16, 2012 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  7. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    This election is about voting for anyone but a republican.

    January 16, 2012 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  8. Reggie from LA

    Interesting. When Obama was running, he didn't have all this foolishness (yes, fools) "deciding" and PACing and "king making" and rabble rousing and Palin consulting and all these things. These are "Christians". Much to the satisfaction of many of you, I AM choking having said that. Jesus (You know, Christ) was a simple man. These are... I don't know what He11 these things are, but they don't give the impression that they are of Christ. They seem angry, bent on winning, hateful.

    January 16, 2012 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  9. Henry Miller

    "As soon as they say "evangelical" my thoughts go first to "tax them", and second to "hypocricy"."

    My thoughts turn to "superstitious nuts."

    January 16, 2012 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  10. Mark

    Not sure there is any news here, of course they are going to vote Rick. If Mitt is the goldenchild of the Establishment than Rick is the same to the Churchies

    January 16, 2012 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  11. indyreader

    If they really do stick together with Santorum, in the end they will have no impact at all, 'cos there's no way on earth that horrible, divisive guy is getting elected.

    January 16, 2012 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  12. Rudy NYC

    Independent_me asked:

    I wonder why "evangelical Christian leaders" .......
    I wonder on the same issues with these self-described Christians.

    January 16, 2012 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  13. Scott S.

    If these Evangelicals are so patriotic and want to be involved in politics so much, maybe they could do us a favor and pay some taxes. Talk about helping to clear up the deficit.

    January 16, 2012 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  14. Beat The Media

    This is just a act of the anybody but Ron Paul group. Ron will stand up and win the nomination in the very end.

    January 16, 2012 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  15. The Real Tom Paine

    Did they announce their choice with black or white smoke?

    January 16, 2012 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  16. V in Chicago

    There is just something about this guy I do not trust. No way would I want him representing me as President or in any other manner. I think he would want to preach from the White House, and that is the last thing I want from my President. No problems though. Even if he wins the nomination, he will NEVER beat President Obama. He is so bland, and he has no personality and, from what I've seen and heard (and I've watched all the debates) he's not that smart. This would be a cake walk for Obama.

    January 16, 2012 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  17. michael

    There needs to be a separation of church and state. Freedom of religion is a choice and should not be mandated.

    January 16, 2012 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |