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Religious Conservatives Take Center Stage in GOP Race

January 11, 2012 - 6:00pm

As the race for the Republican presidential nomination heads to South Carolina with its high concentration of evangelical Christians, those voters will increasingly be the focus of the GOP hopefuls.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- who is looking to derail Republican front-runner former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts in South Carolina on Jan. 21 -- unveiled the support of prominent religious leaders on Thursday. Prominent Christian author George Barna will lead Gingrichs Faith Leaders Coalition.

I am thrilled to have the support of George and the rest of the coalition to work with me to defend life and religious liberty, not just for this campaign but also over the next eight years, Gingrich said in a statement on Thursday. The former congressional leader slammed President Barack Obamas record on faith in the public square. The Obama administration and activist judges have aggressively sought to undermine religion in America, and they need to be thwarted.

Barna, who will be joined by prominent California pastor Jim Garlow and religious conservative activists Don Wildmon and Mat Staver in leading the coalition, praised Gingrich on Thursday.

He is a man of great intellect and passion for America, and has the requisite wisdom and courage to guide this nation back to sanity and health. His policy prescriptions are well-conceived, practical, and reflect his deep understanding of government and our Constitution, said Barna. There are no other candidates running for the presidency who possess his unique mix of skills, knowledge, and experience -- and the ability to win in November.

Other members of the new coalition threw jabs at some of the other candidates.

"Pastors and Christians across the country must recognize that this is a two-man race between Romney and Gingrich. Gingrich is the man who will best represent biblical principles and will be best equipped to defeat President Obama in November," Garlow, who was very prominent in fighting against same-sex marriage in California, insisted on Thursday. "For me and the people of faith joining this coalition, this is not a political move; it is a spiritual one."

America will be unrecognizable if Obama is elected for four more years, Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said. We need a strong leader with domestic, international and political experience who can inspire a new conservative resurgence in the line of Ronald Reagan. Speaker Gingrich is the clear choice.

Barnas team invited more than 50,000 pastors across the nation to take part in a conference call on Thursday. The Gingich camp intends to bring more pastors on board -- with a focus on signing up religious leaders in South Carolina and Florida, which holds its primary on Jan. 31.

Former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma will also be part of the new coalition. Watts campaigned with Gingrich in Columbia, S.C., on Thursday.

Gingrich was not the only Republican presidential hopeful getting his credentials in order with religious conservatives on Thursday. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas was able to score points with two key groups in South Carolina -- religious conservatives and military families -- in an endorsement he received on Thursday from evangelical leader Rev. James Linzey, the president and founder of the Military Bible Association. The association helps military chaplains, provides Bibles to the military community and offers translations of the Bible.

"Having thoroughly examined your political philosophy and finding that your platform is 100 percent in line with the Constitution of the United States of America, and examining your political record to find that you have consistently upheld the Constitution and thereby faithfully represented your constituency, and studying your statement of faith to find that your faith and religious experience is 100 percent compatible with evangelical Christianity and orthodox Christianity, I hereby endorse you for the office of the president of the United States of America, Linzey wrote Paul. I wish you Godspeed!"

Linzey weighed in on the Republican field in a statement released on Thursday.

"Among the six remaining GOP hopefuls, two are evangelical -- Ron Paul and Rick Perry, Linzey said. But the tell-tale sign of being qualified for the presidency is not faith, but loyalty to the Constitution which defends the open expression of faith. Ron Paul seems to be the candidate most loyal to the Constitution according to the records. So when other evangelical leaders endorse GOP contenders of other faiths and traditions, some of whom have received funds from special-interest groups, and are not as loyal to the Constitution as is Dr. Paul, one must necessarily ask, 'What is their agenda?' because they certainly are not endorsing the most qualified nor the most evangelical. If evangelicals wish to make faith an issue, then they should take a closer look at Dr. Paul's statement on his website: 'Let me be very clear here: I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior, and I endeavor every day to follow Him in all I do and in every position I advocate.'"

Linzey, who served almost two and a half decades as a military chaplain, said ifMitt Romney emerges as the GOP candidate, he would cheerfully support him -- but he would prefer Paul.

"Governor Romney is an excellent debater, but Congressman Paul is a better one from my perspective, Linzey said. He argues from the standpoint of the Constitution, often showing his opponents' positions to be unfounded and unconstitutional.

Also on Thursday, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania received the backing of Pastor Steven Andrew, the president of USA Christian Ministries. Santorum, a Catholic and a social conservative, has highlighted the importance of faith in the public square during his presidential bid.

"Rick Santorum is the most God-fearing person running for president. Santorum has excellent qualifications for God to bless the U.S.A. with," Andrew said in a statement. "Santorum solves the real government problem, which is for leaders to fear God and love Americans. Obeying God brings God's blessings to Americans. This is how our Founding Fathers gained prosperity and Christian liberty. That is why Santorum including God in government and doing God's will with pro-life and one man and one woman marriage will help heal the U.S.A.

Andrew took aim at Romney and Obama, bashing them on a range of issues including economics, abortion and same-sex marriage.

In the meantime, Romney continues to garner the support of prominent leading conservatives in the Republican ranks. On Thursday, Romney unveiled the support of former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who had considered launching his own bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

I am honored to have Johns support, Romney said in a statement. John has been a staunch defender of U.S. interests and values, both while he was in and out of government. Johns wisdom, clarity and courage are qualities that should typify our foreign policy. I look forward to consulting with him as we campaign to restore Americas standing abroad and ensure that this century is an American century.

Bolton, whose name had been floated by Gingrich as a possible secretary of state, praised Romney and took aim at President Barack Obama.

Of all the candidates, Mitt Romney possesses the strongest vision for Americas leadership role in the world, and I am proud to endorse him, Bolton said. President Obama has sapped Americas credibility abroad, weakened our military and failed to lead on issues vital to U.S. national security. President Obama has left America exposed to ever-increasing threats. Mitt Romney will restore our military, repair relations with our closest allies, and ensure that no adversary -- including Iran -- ever questions American resolve.

Romney also unveiled the support of former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who had briefly been one of his opponents for the Republican presidential nomination back in 2008.

Im extraordinarily honored to earn Jims support, said Romney in a statement on Thursday. Jim has been a longtime voice for spreading conservative values to grow the economy, such as cutting taxes, lowering spending and making government more efficient. As an Army veteran, he also understands the need for America to project strength in the world. I look forward to working with Jim in the months to come, to spread my message of simpler, smaller, and smarter federal government.

Conservatives not only need a candidate who can beat President Obama, but one who can also put our values into action, said Gilmore, who is now president and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation. That candidate is Mitt Romney. No other candidate in the race has a more detailed plan to get Americans back to work or has laid out a vision for Americas role in the world. Our country cannot take four more years of President Obamas failed fiscal and economic policies. Mitt Romney will bring America back and Im proud to stand with him.

Reach Kevin Derby at or at (850) 727-0859.

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