The evangelical movement today took a stand to make it clear that, despite the cable TV talk that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has the Republican presidential nomination all but sealed up, they have not settled on the man former House Speaker Newt Gingrich refers to as the "Massachusetts moderate" for their pick for president.
Although Gingrich was their second-place pick, about 150 evangelical and religious right leaders today put forth former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum -- who nearly bested Romney in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 -- as their pick.
The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins noted to reporters today, though, that it took three ballots to reach a consensus on a candidate.
From Adele Stan at AlterNet:
Around 150 influentials in the religious right converged on the ranch of Paul Pressler, a retired justice of the Texas Court of Appeals and a director of the right-wing Salem Communications, to try to arrive at something close to a consensus on a candidate. It took three ballots to get to an agreement, if not a consensus, according to Perkins. The aim was to reach an agreement of two-thirds of those gathered at the Pressler ranch. Of 114 participants in the final ballot, 89 voted for Santorum, Perkins said.
In the end, it came down to a contest between Santorum and the better-funded and organized former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Perkins said, with Rep. Ron Paul and Gov. Rick Perry -- both, ironically, of Texas -- being knocked off after the first ballot. The campaigns were permitted to have surrogates speak for them at the meeting, and Romney did indeed send a surrogate, which appeared to be little more than an exercise in politeness.
Slate's Dave Weigel, who reports the final vote for Santorum as 115 out of 150, adds:
What did it mean? No one was calling for Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich to leave the race, even though the assemblenge included supporters of both candidates. "That," said Perkins, "was not even part of the discussion." There would not, officially, be some new campaign for Santorum by a union of these evangelicals. "It will not be a coordinated effort," said Perkins.
Practically, what would it mean for the the next primary? "There is a hope and expectation that those represented by the constituency will make a difference in South Carolina," said Perkins.
The South Carolina primary is slated for Jan. 21.