Fox | Conservative and Religious Leaders Unite Around Santorum to Stop Romney

Dozens of evangelicals and other conservative leaders decided Saturday to rally around Rick Santorum for the Republican presidential nomination, after meeting in Texas to try and pick a consensus candidate.

The decision comes amid speculation that, among social conservatives reluctant to support frontrunner Mitt Romney, indecision over which GOP candidate to back could end up splitting their vote in the upcoming South Carolina primary — in turn, helping Romney. The former Massachusetts governor has meanwhile launched a campaign to appeal to the values voter base, with new ads aimed at allaying concerns about his abortion record.

The meeting in Texas over the weekend was an attempt by conservative leaders to settle on a single, alternative candidate. It’s unclear what impact the endorsement of the 150 or so leaders will have. Polls show Romney leading in South Carolina, while voters who don’t support the former Massachusetts governor are mostly torn among Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Santorum.

The call to back Santorum was only finalized after three rounds of ballots. On the third ballot, Santorum received more than 70 percent of the votes cast — some conservative leaders who had been backing Gingrich changed their votes in the end to support Santorum. The group rallied around the idea that Santorum, and not Gingrich, is the candidate best able to beat President Obama in November.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, expressed surprise that the group agreed to back Santorum by such a wide margin, after failing to come together in support of a single candidate in 2008.

According to Perkins, those at the summit listed repealing the federal health care overhaul as their top concern, followed by the national debt and abortion.

South Carolina is viewed as a critical primary contest, as the state has picked the candidate who went on to become the GOP nominee in every election since the primary’s inception in 1980.

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