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Ouch! Evangelical Leaders Skip Perry in Texas, Endorse Santorum Ouch! Evangelical Leaders Skip Perry in Texas, Endorse Santorum

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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field / CAMPAIGN 2012

Ouch! Evangelical Leaders Skip Perry in Texas, Endorse Santorum

Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a campaign stop at Lizard's Thicket restaurant, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012, in Lexington, S.C.(DAVID GOLDMAN/AP)

January 14, 2012

Instead of “oops,” make that “ouch.”

A group of evangelical leaders and conservative activists meeting in Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s backyard agreed to endorse rival presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Saturday. Santorum was the choice of more than 150 leaders who met to discuss their endorsement at a ranch outside Houston.

"We have been successful as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney," Santorum told reporters in Mount Pleasant, S.C. Later, he said in a statement that every candidate had "coveted" the endorsement. "It is time to coalesce behind the full spectrum conservative in this race who will fight for their values and won't waiver when times get tough," Santorum said.  That was a reference to himself. The next sentence was a reference to Romney: "Now is the time to stop a moderate from becoming our party's nominee."

 

Newt Gingrich and his camp disputed Santorum's interpretation of the results. Former congressman J.C. Watts, Gingrich's national campaign co-chairman, said Santorum and Gingrich were separated by only nine votes on the first ballot. "It is clear that 100% of those attending are not for Governor Romney, but in fact are splintered in whether to support Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum," Watts said in a statement. He called it "misleading" for the Santorum campaign to claim an endorsement from all 150 leaders at the meeting.

The Bernham, Texas conclave was convened by Tony Perkins, president of the influential Family Research Council. It was a last-minute attempt by social conservatives to unify around a single candidate as an alternative to front-runner Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is viewed with suspicion by many social conservatives as insufficiently committed to their issues. They hope their endorsement will influence the outcome of the Jan. 21 primary in South Carolina, home of many Republicans who self-identify as evangelicals.

All of the GOP candidates except for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman sent representatives to the meeting. The outcome had to be tough on Perry, who has been courting social conservatives. He famously used the word “oops” during a candidates’ debate after forgetting a federal department he wants to eliminate.

"Perry said all the right things about Jesus and wearing his faith on his sleeve but evangelical leaders (and voters) are more sophisticated than that," CBN News analyst David Brody wrote on his blog. "Just because you invoke the name of Jesus doesn’t mean you get a free pass if you can’t remember the three agencies you want to cut."

In response to the group’s verdict, Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said Saturday, “Rick Perry is the most successful and consistent social, fiscal and tea party conservative in the race for the White House.  He is taking that conservative record and message to the voters of South Carolina and is confident they will make the right decision.”

 

Rebecca Kaplan, Lindsey Boerma and Sarah Huisenga contributed to this story. contributed to this article.

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