Christian right leaders back Santorum

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A week before the pivotal South Carolina primary, Rick Santorum's quest to emerge as the chief alternative to Mitt Romney received a boost on Jan. 14 from a group of evangelical leaders and social conservatives who voted to back his candidacy in a last-ditch effort to stop the GOP front-runner's march to the nomination.

While none of the GOP candidates has a positive record on LGBT equality, Santorum has made attacking gays a major part of his campaign.

The AP reported about three-quarters of some 150 pastors and Christian conservative political organizers meeting in Texas sided with Santorum over a home-state favorite, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — an outcome that illustrated continuing divisions within the ranks of conservatives who make up the base of the GOP.

The gathering also reflected the lingering dissatisfaction with Romney over abortion rights and other issues, and the belief of conservatives that they need to unite behind one contender before the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary if they are to derail the former Massachusetts governor they view as too moderate. Romney leads narrowly in polls here after victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

"There is a hope and an expectation that this will have an impact on South Carolina," said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who attended the Texas meeting.

It's unclear, however, whether conservative voters will heed the advice of these leaders and back Santorum particularly with other conservative candidates still in the race. The backing of a chunk of conservative leaders could help Santorum, who long has run a shoestring campaign, raise money and set up stronger get-out-the-vote operations.

But with the South Carolina primary looming Jan. 21, time may be running short for the nod to have a significant impact. It perhaps would have been more effective after the Iowa caucuses, before Romney gained steam with a second victory in New Hampshire.

Santorum, for his part, reveled in the development.

"It's a validator," the former Pennsylvania senator told reporters late Jan. 14 while campaigning along South Carolina's coast. "People who have been out there in the fields laboring for the conservative causes see us as someone who can not only fight for the causes but effectively fight and win."

Source: AP