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Prominent Iowa evangelical leaders throw support to Rick Santorum

ElectionsPoliticsReligion and BeliefChristianityRick SantorumProtestantismMichele Bachmann

The Family Leader, an influential political organization among the religious voters who dominate the Iowa caucuses, is not endorsing a candidate in the presidential contest, but two prominent evangelical leaders backed Rick Santorum on Tuesday.

Bob Vander Plaats, the head of the Family Leader, and Chuck Hurley, the president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, said they were backing the former Pennsylvania senator because of his deep anti-abortion, anti-gay-marriage views that are grounded in his faith, and because he believes the nation’s economic woes are rooted in the breakdown of the family.

"I believe Rick Santorum comes from us, he comes from us, just not to us, he comes from us. He’s one of us," Vander Plaats said. "I look forward to the next two weeks to see what I can do to advance his candidacy to get him out of the state of Iowa."

Evangelical voters, who dominate the Iowa caucuses, delivered a surprise victory to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee four years ago. But this time they have failed to coalesce behind a candidate.

Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich all had hopes of getting the group’s or the men’s nods because the Family Leader, Vander Plaats and Hurley have a committed network of religious leaders and conservative activists across Iowa’s 99 counties that could drive supporters to the caucuses when Iowa holds the first voting contest in the nation two weeks from today.

Although Gingrich is a front-runner, he is late to build an organization in the state, and Santorum, Bachmann and Perry are second-tier candidates that are splitting the evangelical vote.

Rumors have swirled in recent weeks that there were deep schisms on the Family Leader’s board about whom to endorse. Vander Plaats denied that this was the case, but never directly said why the group was not endorsing a candidate.

Hurley alluded to some animosity in quoting a person whom he declined to name who he said threatened Vander Plaats.

"I do regret one erstwhile friend and culture warrior has threatened to quote burn Bob’s body, drag it through the streets and hang it from a bridge unquote if Bob doesn’t endorse who that person wants him to endorse," Hurley said.

Both men said they hoped that the socially conservative candidates would team up, perhaps deciding who would be the best president, vice president and attorney general, to unite socially conservative caucus goers.

"Put those numbers together, you have a dynamo candidate coming out of Iowa," Vander Plaats said. "Our fear all along was that the conservatives would fragment their vote."

Vander Plaats said he had not informed the candidates of his decision, but two Santorum campaign officials were spotted in the hotel where the news conference took place. Jamie Johnson, Santorum’s state coalitions director, said he had no advance knowledge of the endorsement and had dropped by simply because of his respect for the Family Leader and the two men.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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ElectionsPoliticsReligion and BeliefChristianityRick SantorumProtestantismMichele Bachmann
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