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In GOP race, candidates woo evangelicals

By Shannon Mccaffrey

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 8 2011 3:50 p.m. MST

"These are highly-motivated voters who go to the polls," said Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition who now runs the Faith and Freedom Coalition. "Anyone who wins the Republican nomination is going to do so with strong support from religious voters."

Somewhat surprisingly, the twice-divorced Gingrich, who has acknowledged having an extramarital affair with the woman who now is his wife, is showing signs of strength among religious voters.

A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll found that 39 percent of likely Iowa caucusgoers who identified themselves as evangelicals said they were backing Gingrich. A CBS-New York Times poll found Gingrich attracting three times as much support as Romney from evangelical Christians in Iowa.

Despite those numbers, Gingrich has more work to do, such as explaining his 2009 conversion from to Catholicism. Gingrich was drawn into the church by his third wife, Callista, a practicing Roman Catholic, and he said he came to believe in its teachings.

Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said that Gingrich has a gender gap and must still explain his marital indiscretions in a way that "allays the fears of evangelical women."

"You need to make it as clear as you possibly can that you deeply regret your past actions and that you do understand the anguish and the suffering they caused others, including your former spouses," Land wrote in an open letter to Gingrich.

Perry, arguably, has more credibility than Gingrich with evangelicals, given that he counts himself as one of them. In a bid to send that message before he entered the race in August, Perry hosted an evangelical gathering that drew 30,000 to Houston.

That didn't translate into automatic support when he became a candidate.

But Perry is redoubling his efforts in the new TV advertisements and on the campaign trail.

"This one reminds me of Joshua 1:9," Perry said as he rifled through greeting cards at Lulu Burgess craft store in Beaufort, S.C.

He also capped off his remarks at Blackstone's CafÉ with, "God bless you. Keep us in your prayers."

And, later in Okatie, Perry said that he wouldn't touch older workers' Social Security benefits: "You're set till the good Lord takes you home."

As if there were any question to where he stood, Perry also made sure to drive the point home with reporters, saying: "I'm not afraid to talk about my Christian faith. I'm not afraid to talk about the values that this country was based upon. I think we need to get back to those values."

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Elliott reported from Beaufort, S.C.

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Follow Shannon McCaffrey at www.twitter.com(backslash)smccaffrey13

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