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Evangelicals Give Santorum A Lift But Is It Too Late To Matter?

Evangelicals' support has breathed new life into Santorum's campaign but Romney's finances, organization remain major obsracles.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 1/16/2012, 5:51 PM

Former Senator Rick Santorum has felt himself strapped to the rail, so to speak, as the Romney express bore down upon him. Now he believes that he has heard the rescue party on its way. 

On Saturday, leading evangelicals met in Texas and decided belatedly that they would not make the same mistake as in 2008 and would urge their followers to back Santorum. The decision must be a painful blow to Rick Perry, who had also counted on evangelical support, particularly as the meeting took place in his home state of Texas. Three quarters of the leaders voted in favor of Rick Santorum.

Santorum would like to believe that this is a game changer and could hasten the exit of Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich from the race, allowing him to go one-on-one with Mitt Romney as the conservative alternative. While he did get the endorsement, the gathering did not explicitly call upon Perry and Gingrich to dropout, and neither did Santorum, saying that it was their call.

The question is whether Perry and Newt Gingrich will oblige (nobody is talking about Ron Paul) and whether Santorum can successfully catch up to Romney. A Romney sweep of the January contests – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, while awarding him only a small percentage of the delegates needed for the nomination, has strengthened the Romney inevitability argument.

Likewise, Romney has corralled a host of endorsements in comparison with his opponents. He has corralled most of his 2008 opponents – John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani. Now he has the endorsement of John Huntsman, a moderate rival from this year's campaign. While support for Huntsman never amounted to more than 5%, one can expect most of his followers to follow Huntsman into the Romney camp.

All these big names command a network of supporters and donors. They merely augment the organization that Romney has built on the skeleton of his 2008 primary run. In South Carolina, Romney has the support of Republican governor Nikki Haley, while Santorum's man in South Carolina is a former state representative.

As the race moves on to more populous states, the financial and organizational advantage fielded by Romney will weigh heavily. Florida is the harbinger of this effect.

Some Florida cities contain more voters than Iowa state. Florida has 3 of the top 20 media markets in the United States. Buying ads in these markets is a costly proposition, something to the tune of $2 million. Rick Santorum has $200,000 cash in hand.

Hispanic voters are a strong element in the Republican Party, particularly Cuban-Americans, a large group of whom are in Florida. Romney already has locked up some of the important leaders and has already been broadcasting ads in Spanish.