Christian-right leaders resolve to throw support, cash to Santorum

In four days, presidential candidate Rick Santorum will face Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney and the dwindling pool of contenders jockeying to win South Carolina’s primary. In the Palmetto state, however, unlike the contests in Iowa and New Hampshire this month, Santorum enjoys united support from the top leaders of America’s conservative Christian movement, the kind of support that comes with cash.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who over the weekend participated in a meeting of politically influential religious leaders in Brenham, Texas, briefed reporters on a conference call Saturday about how the leaders had reached consensus and decided to back Santorum, a development he said was unexpected.

Perkins did not divulge the names of the leaders who participated in this meeting, but reports have come out identifying some of the participants, including Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson; American Values President Gary Bauer; the Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land; American Family Association founder Donald E. Wildmon; the Rev. Jim Garlow of Skyline Church in La Mesa, Calif.; market researcher George Barna; former congressman J.C. Watts, who co-chairs Gingrich’s national campaign; and religious right activists Richard Viguerie; Richard Lee, and David Lane.

According to The New York Times, the private event was held at the ranch of former Texas judge Paul Pressler.

More than 150 people gathered for the event, Perkins said, and listened to surrogates from the presidential campaigns of Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Romney and Santorum. Post speeches, the religious leaders prayed and debated candidates’ policies and ideologies. What followed were three paper-ballot votes. Perkins said approximately 150 people voted on the first ballot, which included all the major candidates minus Jon Huntsman, who dropped out of the race Sunday. The field was then narrowed down to Gingrich and Santorum in the second ballot. Santorum won the final vote, 85 to 29. (Somewhere along the way, the voting pool dropped to 114 people.)

Perkins told reporters that Gingrich and Perry supporters were asked if they would be willing to shift their support to Santorum, and the majority said yes.

“He’s obviously not as up as some of other candidates are in fundraising,” Perkins said, referring to Santorum, whom he called “reliable.” “But those issues can be corrected.”

As of Sept. 30, 2011, Santorum has raised approximately $1.3 million on the campaign trail, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. As a point of comparison, Gingrich has raised about $2.9 million, Romney $32.2 million, and President Obama is at the top of the fundraising heap, having thus far raised $86.2 million.

However, CNN is reporting that online contributions to Santorum’s campaign have increased by 50 percent since Saturday, allowing the campaign “to add several hundred thousand dollars to their previously purchased $1.5 million ad buy” in South Carolina.

When asked about the sudden coalescence around Santorum just days away from an important primary – which has for three decades predicted the GOP presidential nominee – Perkins was confident this small survey sample would impact the race’s outcome, despite popular belief that Romney will seize the nomination in the end.

“This is far from being decided,” Perkins said, pointing out that Romney has only won two primaries so far.

Perkins asserted that discussion about Romney during the discussion was positive, but he made no mention of any Romney support among the religious leaders. When asked by a reporter if Romney’s Mormon faith was a factor in the lack of support, Perkins immediately said, “That was not even discussed.”

But, unprompted, he quickly followed up with, “If it was, it was a side note.” He said discussion about Romney’s church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was gratitude for the Mormon involvement in social issues such as same-sex marriage.

Prompted for details about why Santorum was seen as the most electable challenger to Obama, Perkins was vague, stating that the former Pennsylvania senator has crafted a platform that echoes the social and economic policies of America’s conservative leaders.

Issues most important to the conservative leaders, Perkins said, are repealing Obama’s health-care reform act, reducing the deficit, and “addressing a number of pro-life concerns and family issues.”

Santorum fits the bill on all points, he said.

“It’s not news there’s not strong support among conservatives for Mitt Romney,” Perkins said. “Folks in this meeting have not resigned to the fact that he is going to win. The overwhelming belief is that a true conservative has the best chance of beating Barack Obama. … We don’t need to just change jerseys; we need to change the way we do business.”

Santorum’s economic plans: Cut, cut, cut

Santorum’s economic platform is not as often discussed as his social platform. On his own website, the candidate lists many plans that include cutting non-defense social programs; cutting or wiping out funding for government agencies and programs he disagrees with; and laying off many government workers and freezing others’ pay.

Upon entering office, Santorum says he would immediately reduce non-defense discretionary federal spending to 2008 levels. Additionally, he proposes to cut $5 trillion in federal spending within five years; to freeze defense spending levels for five years; to freeze spending levels for most social programs; to repeal Obama’s health-care reform law and replace it with “market based healthcare innovation and competition”; to pass a balanced budget amendment and cap government spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product. He proposes to freeze pay for non-defense federal workers for four years, cut the workforce by 10 percent, and phase out defined benefit plans for newer workers.

He would also cut all funding for Planned Parenthood, diverting “half of the dollars to support adoption instead”; cut resources for the Environmental Protection Agency; phase out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac within five years; cut funding for United Nations programs as well as the National Labor Relations Board “for decision preventing airplane factory in South Carolina.”

On taxes, Santorum says he will reduce tax rates across the board and would cut the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 17.5 percent.

In an analysis on Santorum’s policies, the conservative fiscal policy group Club for Growth has stated that the candidate’s record in the U.S. Senate was “above average,” but that his record “contains several very weak spots, including his active support of wasteful spending earmarks, his penchant for trade protectionism, and his willingness to support large government expansions like the Medicare prescription drug bill and the 2005 Highway Bill.”

Santorum on sodomy, birth control

Santorum is better known for his controversial views against reproductive and LGBT rights. During this election cycle, he has attempted to soften previous statements he has made about the gay community, same-sex marriage and birth control. But he can’t erase statements he made in 2003, particularly during an interview with the Associated Press, during which he compared homosexuality to incest, bigamy and adultery. As a result of that interview, which you can read an excerpt from here, some called on Santorum to resign his leadership post in the Senate.

In the same interview, Santorum defended laws that criminalize sodomy, because they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family.”

“[I]f the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. … It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created in [Supreme Court case] Griswold [v. Connecticut] – Griswold was the contraceptive case – and abortion. … You say, well, it’s my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that’s antithetical to strong healthy families. Whether it’s polygamy, whether it’s adultery, whether it’s sodomy.”

Santorum has frequently told the public he “is not a believer in birth control,” including during this 2006 interview:

More recently, in October Santorum appeared on controversial preacher Bradlee Dean’s radio show and re-stated his support for sodomy laws.

From that interview:

“And I stood up from the very beginning back in 2003 when the Supreme Court was going create a constitutional right to sodomy and said this is wrong we can’t do this. And so I stood up when no one else did and got hammered for it. I stood up and I continue to stand up.”

Santorum added, “I do not believe that sexual orientation should be added to hate crimes, but let me be honest, I don’t believe in hate crimes, period.”

It was such statements that led syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage to launch a campaign among his wide readership to redefine Santorum’s last name. The winning definition – and instigator of Santorum’s “Google problem” – was “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.” This year Savage renewed the naming campaign, and now “Rick” – to the chagrin of all Rick’s out there, including Texas’ governor and failing presidential candidate – means “to remove something with your tongue—the ‘r’ from ‘remove,’ the ‘ick’ from ‘lick.’” The political activist noted in his latest “Savage Love” column, now “rick santorum” is “the most disgusting two-word sentence in the English language after ‘vote Republican.’”

Photo: GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum (source: Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore)

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Sofia Resnick

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