With just more than a week before the crucial South Carolina GOP primary, more than 100 conservative Christians and evangelical leaders will gather in Texas this weekend to discuss which of the GOP candidates they will be backing in the race for the White House.
ABC News has learned that Mitt Romney’s campaign will be sending a representative to the meeting with hopes of convincing Christian leaders that Romney, a Mormon, will stand up for the social issues they want front and center come November.
There are signs the group is still conflicted over who will best represent their views in the race for president.
The influential Baptist Rev. Robert Jeffress of Dallas told the Associated Press, “Evangelicals, come November, might have to hold their noses and vote for the lesser of two evils.”
In an exclusive interview with the Rev. Franklin Graham today, ABC News asked if he agreed with that assessment.
“I mean, that may be true,” said Graham. “You know, right to life is a very important issue, so this is going to be something many people are going to look at. And I know some of the candidates that have flipped and they’ve flopped on these positions.”
Graham said abortion and opposition to the gay and lesbian movement will be key social issues this election cycle.
In South Carolina, a SuperPAC-supporting Rick Santorum is airing an ad touting Santorum as “the principled conservative who’s never wavered in defense of the unborn.”
Newt Gingrich is running an ad asking, “What happened after Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney changed his view from pro-abortion to pro-life?”
We asked Graham if Romney’s evolving view on abortion is a sticking point.
“I think in life, we do change our position and our views do evolve. Ronald Reagan … certainly his views evolved,” Graham said. “We get wiser as we go down life’s roads, so I think Gov. Romney … yes, he has changed his position, but I accept those changes.”
Graham is also accepting of Newt Gingrich’s three marriages.
“I know the speaker and he is a fine man, and I accept the answer that he has given – that he is an older, he’s a wiser man, he’s a grandfather. And he has changed as well. So I just, I have to accept that,” said Graham.
When we asked Graham what he makes of the argument made by some that Mormons are non-Christians, Graham said, “The Holy Bible is the sole authority of God. And, of course, Mormonism – they have the Book of Mormons. As mainstream Christianity, we don’t accept that. But we do share many of the common values that I believe are important to this nation.”
If Romney becomes the Republican nominee, we asked Graham if conservative Christians would coalesce around Romney?
“Listen, we’re not voting for the ‘pastor-in-chief’ of the Unites States. We’re voting for the president,” said Graham. “We’re looking for the person that is the most qualified, a person that shares common values, a person that loves the country, a person who can lead this nation out of the economic mess that we’ve gotten ourselves in, and that’s I think the main thing for most people, today.”