FaithWorld

South Carolina evangelicals edge toward Catholic Santorum in U.S. Republican race

January 9, 2012

(Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum speaks at a Republican Party fundraising dinner in Greenville, South Carolina January 8, 2012. REUTERS/Mary Ann Chastain)

Religious conservative voters in South Carolina, shaking off months of indecision, are showing signs of movement toward surging Rick Santorum, a Roman Catholic, but are still badly split in the Republican presidential race. Before they jump off the fence, many of those Christian right voters will need to be convinced Santorum is the candidate who can kick President Barack Obama out of the White House.

“I see a little bit of movement to Santorum in South Carolina in the last few days,” said Robert Taylor, a dean at Bob Jones University, the powerful fundamentalist Christian college in Greenville. “But when you talk about religious conservative voters now, the big consideration is ‘Can he beat Obama?’” Taylor said. “Santorum is still going to have to make the case that he is the one who can do it.”

Santorum took a big first step toward rallying religious right voters last week in Iowa, where he came within eight votes of an upset of front-runner Mitt Romney in the kick-off contest of the 2012 Republican nominating race. South Carolina is the next battleground after Tuesday’s New Hampshire vote, but polls show Santorum splitting conservative votes here with Texas Governor Rick Perry, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Representative Ron Paul.

Santorum built his shoestring campaign on a grass-roots appeal to social and religious conservatives. He left New Hampshire to kick off the South Carolina race on Sunday and won the endorsement of evangelical leader Gary Bauer, who called him “a conservative leader for our times.”

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