Friday, March 2, 2012

Evangelicals still candidate shopping

Evangelical voters are having a difficult time settling on a Republican presidential candidate. With Texas Gov. Rick Perry out of the race, none of the remaining viable candidates is an evangelical. Mitt Romney is Mormon; Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are Roman Catholic.

Santorum snagged the evangelical vote in Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, Romney in New Hampshire and Nevada, Gingrich in South Carolina. In Florida, Romney and Gingrich split that support.

The top issues for evangelical voters typically have been abortion and gay marriage. To varying degrees, all three of those candidates hold positions consistent with Christian conservatives. However, other factors prevent full support of any one of the contenders.

Gingrich’s past marital infidelities pose a problem not just for evangelicals, but also for Republicans who tout themselves as champions of family values. While some evangelical voters may be willing to forgive Gingrich, if selected as the party’s nominee, he would arguably be running against one of the most family-oriented presidents the country has ever had.

Some evangelicals remain leery about Romney because of his religion. Also, the former governor of Massachusetts has not always been pro-life, raising questions about his conservative credentials.

Santorum would seem to be the clear favorite. He is the most consistent social conservative. However, in a head-to-head battle with President Barack Obama, many doubt Santorum could prevail.

None of the GOP candidates has been especially vocal about his faith. Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush openly professed their religious beliefs, making them attractive candidates to evangelicals. The general belief is a candidate who makes his or her faith a priority during the campaign is more likely to support biblically aligned policies.

“If [the candidates] don’t ever get around to talking about the Lord and about biblical principles and about their determination to defend those things in the culture,” said Christian leader James Dobson, according to The Christian Post, “then we better find another candidate.”

The quandary this year for evangelical voters is whether to back a candidate who most closely reflects their values or one who can defeat President Barack Obama. So far, the base appears to be split.

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