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Evangelical Leaders Back Santorum
[size=6][b] Evangelical leaders back Santorum[/b][/size]
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum attends a campaign event at Tommy's Country Ham House in Greenville (ERIC THAYER, REUTERS / January 14, 2012)
Deborah Charles Reuters
5:39 p.m. CST, January 14, 2012
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (Reuters) - [b]Influential evangelical Christian leaders endorsed Rick Santorum on Saturday for the Republican presidential nomination, in an attempt to strengthen him as the more conservative alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney.[/b]
At a weekend meeting at a ranch outside Houston, the group of 150 conservatives who had joined forces agreed on the third ballot to support the former Pennsylvania senator. Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich came in second.
They had not been expected to reach agreement on one candidate since evangelical support has been splintered among Santorum, Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry.
"There is clearly a united group here that is committed to see ... a true conservative elected to the White House," said Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council and spokesman for the group.
The endorsement came one week before South Carolina votes on January 21 in the Republican presidential primary. The Republicans are selecting a candidate to challenge President Barack Obama in the November election.
"It will have an impact in South Carolina and in shifting support to the consensus candidate which is Rick Santorum," Perkins said.
Santorum may need the help. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Saturday showed Romney with a huge lead in the state, with 37 percent of the vote. Santorum and libertarian Ron Paul were tied for second at 16 percent.
Santorum will be looking to follow up with the religious groups to give him a push in the last week of campaigning in the state and into the next primary vote in Florida.