Rick Santorum Gets Big Boost From Iowa Christian Conservative Leaders

Dec 20, 2011 3:01pm

URBANDALE, Iowa: Rick Santorum received a big Iowa endorsement Tuesday that should help rally the splintered Christian evangelical community here around him. A social conservative leader in the state, Bob Vander Plaats, backed the former Pennsylvania senator just two weeks before the caucuses here, calling him “the Huckabee in this race.”

“I saw him as a champion for the family in the U.S. House, I saw him as a champion for the family in the U.S. Senate. I saw him as a champion for the family on the campaign trail,” Vander Plaats said. “I believe Rick Santorum comes from us, just not to us, he comes from us.”

Vander Plaats heads up the Family Leader, which has not endorsed a candidate before this campaign but said they would this time.  But the board deliberated up until last night and “reached unanimity,” according to Vander Plaats, that the organization would not make an endorsement. Chuck Hurley, who heads the Iowa Family Policy Center, part of the Family Leader, also chose to endorse Santorum outside the organization.

In a press conference, Hurley cited Santorum’s commitment to socially conservative issues, adding that he was persuaded by the fact that the Santorum family homeschooled their children, as he did. In the last cycle, home school advocates and the broader evangelical community were able to coalesce around Mike Huckabee, ensuring his victory over Mitt Romney despite the $10 million the Romney campaign poured into Iowa.

Hurley told reporters that Santorum “meets and exceeds the biblical qualifications,” but added that he would “have preferred to be here today endorsing a team.”

“As we all know, there are several great pro-family candidates and it would be my dream, my ideal and I will continue to pray for and hope for a coalescing for the candidates,” Hurley said, explaining he would prefer if the other socially conservative candidates in the race would “come together and figure out who has the talent for president, who has the talents for other roles in the federal government” to help the evangelical community coalesce around one candidate instead of being spread between Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Santorum.

The deliberations were both testy and dramatic, according to Hurley, who said that Vander Plaats received threats before making his decision. “I do regret that one erstwhile friend and cultural warrior has threatened to burn Bob’s body and drag it through the streets and hang it from a bridge if Bob doesn’t endorse who that person wants him to endorse,” Hurley said, refusing to name the person or who that person backed.

Hurley ended the press conference by telling Iowa caucus-goers “to take a close look at Rick, to study the scripture, to pray hard and vote their conscience. Above all, we answer to God for our vote.”

None of the other campaigns were at the press conference, but Santorum coalitions director Jamie Johnson was in attendance. He said he had no idea Santorum would be chosen, but that their campaign headquarters are in Urbandale.

The Bachmann and Gingrich headquarters are also located close by. Johnson said the endorsement will give a big boost to the campaign here and across the country and the backing will help voters give Santorum a “second look” as well as help with much-needed campaign funds.

Despite the good news for the campaign, Johnson couldn’t help but hit the other candidates, including Perry and Bachmann, both currently on bus tours.

“We are frankly glad they’ve finally decided to visit all of the Iowa communities two months after we finished ours,” Johnson told reporters before zinging Bachmann specifically. “I hope they manage to get places on time. I know a lot of their schedules are pretty tight and pretty packed … one particular candidate seems to arrive 90 minutes late and spend 5 to 10 minutes a stop. We have usually scheduled at least an hour, sometimes an hour and a half to each city stop to give voters there as much time as possible.” Bachmann has scheduled as many as 13 stops in one day and at times spends 15 minutes at each location, while other stops are longer.

Neither Vander Plaats nor Johnson believes he will have any official role in the Santorum campaign, but Johnson said those conversations could be “coming” and they are “open to discussing that possibility.”

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