Evangelicals boost Santorum

Clarification: After initial reports that Perry was dropping out of the race, he announced later Wednesday that he would remain a candidate.

Once again, evangelicals flexed their considerable muscle in Iowa last night. This time, our own former Sen. Rick Santorum benefited.

According to this poll, 57 percent of voters identified themselves as evangelical and 32 percent of them voted for Santorum in the Iowa caucus.

It wasn’t quite enough, however, as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney eked out an eight-vote victory. But the strong showing is likely to provide a considerable boost to the Santorum campaign, which had been floundering until now.

Much of that boost will come from today’s twin announcements that Texas Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann are dropping out of the race for the Republican nomination for president.

Both Perry and Bachmann were strong favorites of the religious right. That support will presumably go to the Catholic, anti-abortion Santorum now.

Political made a good point this morning about the vaunted impact of Iowa evangelicals. Add it up and over 50 percent of the vote went to a Mormon candidate, or a Catholic candidate.

Historically, the Iowa evangelical bump is short-lived. Televangelist Pat Robertson came in second in Iowa in 1988 and Mike Huckabee won the caucus four years ago. It was the high point for both men.

Still, the Mormon Romney has to be concerned about his slipping support from religious conservatives. He actually polled better in Iowa in 2008, when he finished second. This time around, his evangelical support dropped by nearly a third, from 19 percent to 14 percent.

That’s a problem for Romney, who is already viewed with suspicion by GOP voters for his moderate past.

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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