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Evangelical Leaders Looking Past South Carolina (Updated)

Will a winnowed field produce a "not-Romney" candidate?

1:20 PM, Jan 14, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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The New York Times reports that national conservative Christian leaders are waiting until after the South Carolina primary on January 21 to coalesce around a "not-Romney" Republican candidate. Those leaders are meeting in Texas this weekend to discuss the race. Here's more from the Times:

Scores of politically influential evangelicals plan to attend the meeting, but the original dream of coalescing around one candidate of the religious right — Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum or Rick Perry — is unrealistic for now, several leaders said in interviews this week. If one of those candidates surges in South Carolina, or in the Florida primary on Jan. 31, pressure will grow on the others to step back, the leaders said.

“Any talk of winnowing out the field is premature until after South Carolina,” said Richard Land, the president of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. “The best thing that can happen for social conservatives is for one candidate to get a very clear mandate from South Carolina voters. If that happens, you might be able to get a consensus that makes a difference.”

Mr. Land, heeding the request of the meeting’s conveners, said he would “neither confirm nor deny” his plans to attend. The meeting, billed as a private discussion, has drawn intense national attention as Mr. Romney tries to sew up the Republican nomination. He is opposed by many evangelicals who question the depth of his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage and his fidelity to fiscal conservatism.

UPDATE: Jonathan Martin at Politico reports that the group is supporting Rick Santorum:

In a conference call this afternoon, Family Research Council chief Tony Perkins said that on the third ballot Santorum won a solid majority of votes from the movement conservatives gathered at a private ranch near Houston.

Of 114 votes cast, Santorum won 85.   Newt Gingrich took the remainder. 

In a remarkable slap in his home state, Rick Perry didn't even make it past the first ballot, Perkins said. 

Santorum backers were already taking to Twitter in the moments after Perkins announced the decision to tout the news.  The former Pennsylvania senator, largely absent from the political conversation since finishing well behind Mitt Romney in New Hampshire and staying out of the Bain debate, is badly in need of a lift.  In that sense, the endorsement is well-timed.

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