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Social Conservatives Rally to Santorum
The former senator may be their most popular choice, though Bachmann and Perry draw interest.


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Katrina Trinko

Last election cycle, Iowa’s social conservatives and evangelicals catapulted Mike Huckabee to a surprise caucus win. But this time around, the most distinguishing aspect of the social-conservative vote is how fractured it is now — and how fractured it could still be by the time the caucus is held.

“If I was a betting man, which I’m not, I would say it’s going to stay divided,” says Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition. “But anything can change.”

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Craig Robinson, editor of The Iowa Republican and a veteran GOP operative, thinks that there is one candidate who might have the momentum to unite social conservatives behind his bid.

“If any candidate is starting to coalesce that support, it’s Santorum,” he observes. “People are still very undecided, but I think Santorum seems to have the momentum with these people. He’s been able to stitch together a significant part of that Huckabee coalition from four years ago.

“I just get the sense that he’s the one on the ground that’s actually moving in terms of [social-conservative support, rather] than Bachmann or Perry,” he adds.

“Rick Santorum probably tops the list for social conservatives, though he’s not alone in the field,” says Ann Trimble-Ray, vice chairwoman of the Sac County GOP. “There’s also Michele Bachmann courting that vote, real strongly, real heavily. And Rick Perry is positioning himself to do the same.”

Today, Santorum was endorsed by two prominent Iowa social conservatives, former Huckabee Iowa campaign manager Bob Vander Plaats and Iowa Family Policy Center president Chuck Hurley. He’s also gained three other significant endorsements this month from influential Iowa religious leaders: Cary Gordon, Terry Amann, and Albert Calaway. “Santorum seems to be surging right now, in the sense that he’s getting a lot of good endorsements,” comments Patti Brown, director of the conservative Iowa Policy Institute, adding that Vander Plaats’s and Hurley’s endorsements “are certainly going to help him with social conservatives.”

But Santorum is not the only one who has endorsements to tout. Bachmann has been endorsed by various social conservatives in the state: In August, she released a list naming over 100 Iowa pastors and faith leaders who supported her candidacy. Yesterday, American Family Association and American Family Radio (which has several stations in Iowa) founder Rev. Don Wildmon endorsed Newt Gingrich.

Perry is also actively courting the evangelical vote, inscribing on his campaign bus the motto “Faith, Jobs, and Freedom.” In a TV ad, he focused on religion, saying, “You don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”



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