Politics

              Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks at a town hall meeting at Redman  Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks at a town hall meeting at Redman's Pizza in Osceola, Iowa, Monday, Dec. 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)   

Influential Iowa evangelical leaders endorse Santorum

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Caroline May
Political Reporter

In lieu of a highly sought endorsement from the Iowa-based Christian conservative organization the Family Leader, the group’s CEO Bob Vander Plaats announced Tuesday that he will personally endorse Rick Santorum for the GOP presidential nomination.

The Family Leader’s decision not to institutionally endorse any candidate came after four weeks of wrangling over the four mostsocially conservative candidates in the race for the GOP nomination, according to the Des Moines Register: Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich. They had eliminated Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney from consideration.

While the organization is sitting out the endorsement game this year, its CEO and his conservative cohort Chuck Hurley, the president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, gave Santorum their thumbs-up Tuesday.

“It’d be a great boost for us,” Santorum said of a Family Leader endorsement prior to the group’s no endorsement announcement during a Tuesday morning interview on Fox News. “Whoever gets this endorsement is clearly going to have the edge.”

While no one received the group’s endorsement, the personal stamp of approval from Vander Plaats and Hurley will be beneficial to Santorum — who has been trying to distinguish himself from the other social conservatives in the race and raise his standing in the polls.

Evangelical voters traditionally make up a large portion of the Iowa caucus attendees. In 2008 Evangelicals made up 60% of the Iowa voter turnout in the caucuses, according to USA Today.

In the Fox interview, Santorum added that he had an edge over the rest of the field for the endorsement because of his focus on Iowa.

“We’ve done all 99 counties, some more than once,” he explained . “We’re building up momentum.”

In an interview with The Daily Caller earlier this month, Vander Plaats said it’s “very important” to him that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney does not get the nomination, but said there was a chance his organization wouldn’t endorse a candidate.

“It may be we’re hung because as a CEO, I want clarity and unanimity from the board,” he said. “I don’t need to divide my board over this because those tend to be deep wounds. … So if we can get clarity, I would say that’s when we would endorse. If we can’t we’ll probably leave it to our final four and see what caucus goers say.”

Asked about Santorum then, he said: “The thing about Santorum, he’s visited all 99 counties. People love him. We love him. The most common question I get with Santorum, not only in Iowa, but across the country is why hasn’t he got the traction he should have gotten by now. It’s a hard one to explain, because he’s right on the issues, very articulate, very bright. He doesn’t stick to talking points. He’s not politics as usual. He was tea party before tea party was cool.”

Alex Pappas contributed reporting.

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