Heading into Saturday’s Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, conservatives remains divided on who ought to be the alternative to presumed frontrunner Mitt Romney.
Although former House speaker Newt Gingrich appears to be surging ahead of Romney in the Palmetto State, a number of prominent activists on the right continue to push former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum as the true conservative alternative to Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.
Conservatives have long been wary of Romney, who has become known for big flip-flops on abortion and other issues. Many have been seeking to deny Romney the 2012 nomination, but have failed to fall behind a single alternative candidate.
Talking Points Memo released a poll average which finds Gingrich at 35.7 percent, Romney at 26.4 percent, Santorum pulling just 13.9 percent, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul pulling up the rear at 12.8 percent.
The strength of Gingrich is also demonstrated by the fact that when he suspended his own White House campaign this week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry threw his support to Gingrich.
But despite Santorum polling at second-to-last, a number of big-name conservatives appear to be going to mat for him.
“Last week some 150 conservative leaders gathered at Nancy and Paul Pressler’s ranch to discuss the Republican presidential campaign — there was an overwhelming 75 percent consensus to support Rick Santorum for President,” says Richard Viguerie, a pioneer of political direct mail and “one of the creators of the modern conservative movement,” according to The Nation magazine. “The group of conservative leaders named in today’s release includes Dr. James Dobson, Gary Bauer, Joseph Farah, Foster Friess, Elaine Donnelly and many others representing all four segments of the new conservative coalition who are coalescing behind Rick Santorum’s candidacy.”
Specifically, Viguerie calls Santorum the best candidate to bring together social conservatives, national defense conservatives, economic conservatives and tea party conservatives.
“Rick Santorum is the only reliable conservative left in the race,” Viguerie says. “He has a long involvement in the conservative movement, and he has demonstrated his commitment to hiring conservatives on his Senate staff and in his campaign. On the issues of vital importance to conservatives, such as the right to life, the pro-family agenda, national security, and fighting the growth of government, he has walked with us even when the path was hard.
“If conservatives want a conservative, not just another establishment Republican, nominated in Tampa and elected in November it is time for us to start concentrating on consolidating that winning four-part coalition behind one candidate,” Viguerie adds. “The candidate who best appeals to all four segments of the winning 2010 coalition, with the fewest negatives in November, is Rick Santorum.”
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.