Encouraged by his near-first-place tie in Iowa on Tuesday, CatholicVote.org has endorsed former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum for president today.
“I’ll be honest, I wanted CatholicVote to endorse him months ago,” CatholicVote.org’s president, Brian Burch e-mailed the group’s 600,000 subscribers Wednesday. “But any endorsement must involve the heart and the brain. And until the last two weeks, it wasn’t clear whether Santorum would get the traction he needed to compete.”
“Last night,” Burch continued, “he put these doubts firmly to rest. Traveling Iowa in a pickup for the past six months, he outlasted his competitors. Rick Perry faded, Herman Cain dropped out, and just hours ago, Michele Bachmann announced that she is suspending her campaign.”
“There’s no doubt it would be thrilling to have a pro-life Catholic president to atone for the years of Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden,” tells me in an interview. “If we can help Rick Santorum win, that would be outstanding. If another pro-life or pro-family candidate ultimately wins the nomination, our members have made it clear that they will lend their support to that candidate. But our members have made one thing very clear to us. They want a very passionate pro-life and pro-family president, and right now they believe that person is Rick Santorum.”
The full interview follows.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What besides the obvious changed last night? It’s not like 2008 Iowa Caucus winner Mike Huckabee went on to be president. And he even had a clean win in Iowa.
BRIAN BURCH: People have to remember that Huckabee did very well in 2008. He got a surprise third-place finish in New Hampshire, did great in South Carolina, and lasted longer than Rudy Guiliani, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson. So Huckabee isn’t a bad comparison considering that he was McCain’s last standing challenger.
An advantage that Santorum has over Huckabee is the way the Internet has nationalized this primary. Americans are keeping closer tabs on the nomination race than ever before, and not just voters in early primary states. It’s nationwide. With online political donations now the standard, a candidate can surge (or falter) overnight, while raising funds just as quickly.
Another change from 2008 is the advent of SuperPACs. While the CatholicVote Candidate Fund cannot coordinate with the Santorum campaign, we have the ability to raise unlimited donations to convince Americans that Rick Santorum is the best candidate to support on the issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty.
LOPEZ: What are you saying about the other candidates by endorsing?
BURCH: Primary elections are fundamentally about choices. We could choose to stay on the sidelines, or endorse the candidate we believe has the best record and message to challenge Barack Obama. The process has a way of winnowing down the choices on its own. But we also believe that advocacy groups like ours have a role to play in shaping the opinions of primary voters. And so when it comes to the issues that matter most to the Catholic voters we represent, there simply is no better candidate than Rick Santorum. That’s not to say there aren’t things to like about Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, or Rick Perry. Any of these candidates would be far superior to the current occupant of the White House. But Santorum brings leadership, a record, and a vision that frankly, even Republicans need to hear. And we believe it is essential that his message be maximized.
LOPEZ: What do you bring to the table by endorsing?
BURCH: We set out in 2008 to create a web-fueled new-media movement for Catholic voters. In the process, we were able to create a series of viral ads that helped build a substantial e-mail list along with a growing social-media platform. We currently communicate regularly with over 500,000 e-mail subscribers, and expect that list to grow substantially this year as we deploy new data modeling to identify Catholic voters. The Catholic vote has always been critical to the success of any candidate. We hope to organize and mobilize Catholics more effectively.
Finally, in the end, political campaigns are concerned with the size of your army, and how much money you can raise. Our army of Catholic voters may be small by comparison, but it is as dedicated group, and we intend to mobilize them for Santorum while raising as much money as possible to help him win.
LOPEZ: Catholics don’t really vote as a tribe, do they? Should they?
BURCH: Catholics don’t vote as a tribe, nor should they. When it comes to politics, Catholic social teaching is concerned with the dignity of the human person and the common good, not with a profession of faith. This is because the principles that inform Catholic social teaching are accessible by common human reason, and are not exclusive to Catholics. This means that any person of good will, be they Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, or Jewish, could faithfully represent Catholic voters.
We have been communicating with our members over e-mail and Facebook over the last four or five months as each new candidate rose on the scene. I can tell you that Catholics had no problem supporting Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain or Rick Perry even though none of them is Catholic. Many of them still like lots of what they are hearing and seeing in Ron Paul and Mitt Romney — all of them non-Catholics.
There’s no doubt it would be thrilling to have a pro-life Catholic president to atone for the years of Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden. If we can help Rick Santorum win, that would be outstanding. If another pro-life or pro-family candidate ultimately wins the nomination, our members have made it clear that they will lend their support to that candidate. But our members have made one thing very clear to us. They want a very passionate pro-life and pro-family president, and right now they believe that person is Rick Santorum.