The Ticket

Elite social conservatives vote to give Rick Santorum consensus support

The Ticket

A group of 170 socially conservative Christian leaders representing various politically active organizations emerged from a weekend meeting near Houston with consensus support for the presidential candidacy of Rick Santorum.

"There emerged a strong consensus around Rick Santorum as the preferred candidate of this group," Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, told reporters during a conference call after the vote.

There were three rounds of balloting, Perkins said. In the first round there was "measurable support" for Santorum, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. The second round of balloting came down to Gingrich and Santorum. And in the final ballot, many Gingrich supporters moved to Santorum in a desire to emerge from the meeting with a strong consensus candidate.

Santorum received more than two-thirds of the votes of the 115 people who voted on the final ballot, Perkins said. "I was surprised at the unity that was here," he said.

The weekend meeting was part of an effort among establishment Christian conservative leaders to try to avoid what happened in 2008, when Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson split the conservative vote in South Carolina, allowing John McCain to emerge as the winner of that primary—and, eventually, the presidential nominee of the Republican Party.

Every major Republican candidate—except for Jon Huntsman, who declined to send someone to participate—had a representative address the group. Perkins described passionate speeches delivered by campaign representatives and their supporters for Gingrich, Perry and Santorum.  There was very little discussion about Mitt Romney, he added.

It is unclear what effect this consensus support among elite social and religious conservatives will have on the race, with South Carolina Republicans voting in their primary on Saturday, Jan. 21.

The support "will manifest itself in different ways, but not necessarily coordinated," Perkins said. He expected the endorsement would boost Santorum's fundraising and his standing in public-opinion polls.

There was no discussion about applying pressure to Gingrich or Perry to drop out of the race to avoid further splintering of the conservative vote.

David Chalian is the Washington bureau chief for Yahoo News.

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