Split in cultural conservatives could help Romney

By Kasie Hunt

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 7 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

One of those leaders — Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas — introduced Perry at the summit and pointed to differences between the governor and his Republican rivals.

"Do we want a candidate who is a conservative out of convenience or who is a conservative of conviction? Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or one who is a born again follower of Jesus Christ?" Jeffress asked.

But Perry has competition for religious conservatives.

Santorum's political reputation is almost entirely based on his social conservative advocacy. He helped lead a Senate effort to ban partial-birth abortion and has aggressively opposed gay marriage. He's at least as blunt as Perry in going after Romney.

"Mitt Romney's past and his seemingly lack of strong convictions with respect to the life issue are a concern. We've seen this: When people don't have a good strong track record on these issues, when they're put into a position of authority they tend to shy away from it," Santorum told reporters ahead of his speech here.

But Santorum also attacked Cain's socially conservative record, complaining that Cain hasn't signed anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage pledges like many others in the field.

Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon said the candidate stands for "principles, not pledges" and is "strongly pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-family."

With Romney's Republican foes on the right fighting for the same conservative activists — and sometimes going after each other — the former Massachusetts governor stands to benefit, even as his backers acknowledge he's not this group's favorite candidate.

"There is a recognition that not every one of these activists is ready to support Gov. Romney right now," said Kevin Madden, Romney's spokesman in 2008 who now serves as an outside adviser to the campaign. "The activists that support him and those that don't will both hold him accountable. What's most important is that Romney not only understands that but he also embraces it."

The five candidates with the best hopes of winning conservatives' support were addressing the Values Voters conference on Friday. Romney and libertarian Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who also hasn't drawn strong support from social conservatives in the past, will speak Saturday. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman isn't attending.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere