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Iowa Christian Leader Asks Bachmann To Drop Out, Endorse Santorum

 

On Tuesday, Bob Vander Plaats, who is president of a prominent Iowa Christian organization called The Family Leader, surprisingly asked presidential candidate Michele Bachmann to drop out of the race and endorse Rick Santorum. 

Vander Plaats and Family Leader vice president Chuck Hurley endorsed Santorum earlier in the day, but the organization itself has not issued an endorsement, because as CNN notes, its board members remain divided between Bachmann, Santorum, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich.

CNN explains the reasoning behind the curious invitation to Bachmann, whose campaign politely declined to fold up its tent and endorse a rival who polls well behind Bachmann in both Iowa and national surveys:

The goal for The Family Leader and other like-minded social conservatives is to avoid splitting the evangelical vote by coalescing around one conservative candidate who could stop Mitt Romney from winning the Republican nomination. Many social conservatives and other religious leaders in the state have openly labeled the former Massachusetts governor a “flip-flopper,” a criticism the campaign frequently beats back, while others have seen Romney’s Mormon faith as an issue.

Representatives for leading social conservatives in the state held a secret meeting in November as part of the effort to deny Romney the GOP nomination.

Vander Plaats has criticized Romney’s scant campaigning in the state compared to the other GOP contenders.

Bachmann, Santorum, and Perry have all made strong appeals to Iowa social conservatives.  Vander Plaats and Hurley might feel that Bachmann and Perry already had their shots at being the alpha Non-Romney, while Santorum has not had his moment in the sun yet.  Santorum has also done a good job, in debates and on the trail, of linking the need to strengthen the American family with his practical campaign proposals in an overall theme. 

In addition to the aforementioned flip-floppery on social issues, Mitt Romney did not endear himself to the Family Leader by skipping their Thanksgiving forum.  It sounds like he would have faced an uphill battle trying to woo them over turducken and mashed potatoes.

As for Newt Gingrich, who is currently the leading Non-Romney nationally but flagging badly in Iowa, he actually does have some support from social conservatives.  Vander Plaats reportedly did not dismiss Gingrich out of hand, in part because the former Speaker of the House “lent significant financial backing to a 2010 effort in Iowa, led by the group leader, which wound up with three Iowa Supreme Court justices voted off the court in a fight over gay marriage,” according to Reuters.  Gingrich also received the support of Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, on Tuesday.  On the other hand, his personal marital history and extra-marital affairs make him a non-starter for many social conservatives.

Santorum has put a lot of effort into Iowa, although the Washington Post reports that Bachmann’s campaign has actually been more effective at communicating directly with Iowa voters:

However, as of mid-November only 31 percent of likely caucus-goers told the Des Moines Register they had been contacted by Santorum’s campaign. (Compare that to 61 percent who were touched by Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.)

And not all evangelical leaders have rallied behind Santorum — some are supporting Bachmann or Texas Gov. Rick Perry. “If the entire Christian commuinity were united around a candidate, that might create a synergy for that candidate, but that’s not the case,” said strategist Steve Grubbs, a strategist and former Iowa Republican Party chairman. “It’s a splintered universe of evangelical leaders.”

Santorum likely won’t finish in the top three candidates on Jan. 3. But he could outperform the (very low) expectations set for him — and shed a bit of the stigma that lingers from his 2006 Senate loss.

The Post is convinced that crushing Senate loss is the rain that falls perpetually upon Santorum and keeps him from catching fire.  He was absolutely destroyed by Democrat Bob Casey, losing by eighteen points in a race where he was perpetually behind by double digits, and he was the third-ranking Senate Republican at the time.  One reason for this loss was Santorum’s support for the dreadful Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey, a move he openly apologized for last year. 

Social conservatives are the GOP elephants with the longest memories.  This is not surprising, considering that they tend to regard character as an essential quality, not easily revised and adjusted.  That’s why Newt Gingrich is having some trouble convincing them extramarital dalliances are completely in his past, and his history does not corrupt the purity of his future intentions. 

Santorum has been very tough on himself, and his caucus, for the failures leading up to their 2006 thrashing at the polls.  “We let America down,” he once observed.  “I say that conservatism didn’t fail America.  Conservatives failed conservatism.”  He’s got at least a few strong votes of confidence from social conservative leaders that his absolution is acceptable, and he has what it takes to be a winner again. 

In the case of Bob Vander Plaats, that confidence is so strong that he was willing to make a call to Michele Bachmann’s office that he must have known would be refused.  Maybe that’s the kind of blowtorch that will finally help Rick Santorum catch fire in Iowa.

Update: While her campaign might have been very polite in refusing Vander Plaats’ call to drop out and endorse Santorum, Michele Bachmann herself was rather scrappy about it on Fox News this morning: “I did receive a phone call, and I’ve been polling above the Ricks, so there would be absolutley no reason for me to drop out.  Plus, I’m the only one that actually won anything in this state.”  

The latter is a reference to the Ames straw poll, which Bachmann won back in August.  Santorum came in fourth, behind… Tim Pawlenty.  

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Written By

John Hayward began his blogging career as a guest writer at Hot Air under the pen name "Doctor Zero," producing a collection of essays entitled Doctor Zero: Year One. He is a great admirer of free-market thinkers such as Arthur Laffer, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell. He writes both political and cultural commentary, including book and movie reviews. An avid fan of horror and fantasy fiction, he has produced an e-book collection of short horror stories entitled Persistent Dread. John is a former staff writer for Human Events. He is a regular guest on the Rusty Humphries radio show, and has appeared on numerous other local and national radio programs, including G. Gordon Liddy, BattleLine, and Dennis Miller.

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