Evangelical Christian Leaders Back Santorum

A group of 150 social conservative and evangelical Christian leaders threw their support behind GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum. (AP)

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Saturday won the backing of 150 social conservative and evangelical Christian leaders.

Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council and a spokesman for the group, said a “strong consensus” emerged for Santorum after three rounds of balloting, The Hill reported.

“I think it was vigorous discussion of who they felt best represented the conservative movement and who they think had the best chance of succeeding,” Perkins said.

He said the former Pennsylvania senator got more than two-thirds support in the final ballot, in which he faced off against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Texas Gov. Rick Perry also received a significant amount of support from the group, Perkins said.

According to ABC News, the leaders met Friday at a Texas ranch and heard from surrogates from every candidate’s campaign except former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

Perkins said that he expected there would be “some activity” within 24 hours of the endorsement, ABC reported. He was vague, suggesting only that some groups and leaders would likely make their official support known.

As ABC observed, the meeting “reflected conservatives’ desire to stop Mitt Romney’s momentum before the Jan. 21 primary in South Carolina, where evangelical voters are expected to play a significant role.”

Santorum experienced a rise in the polls right before the Iowa caucuses, coming in second just behind the former Massachusetts governor. He slipped to fourth place in New Hampshire, a state where his strict social conservative views weren’t expected to play as well. Three separate South Carolina polls released Friday show he’s slipping in the state, making an infusion of renewed evangelical support a welcome sight.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Perkins said there was “not a lot of time spent” discussing front-runner Romney’s candidacy.

“It was more a discussion of the positives of the conservative candidates and their vision for the future,” Perkins said. “It was not a bash Mitt Romney weekend…but it’s not news that there is not strong support among conservatives for Mitt Romney.”

Perkins said the group considered Santorum’s weaknesses, particularly in the area of fundraising, according to the Times.

“Those issues can be corrected,” he said. “With the strong consensus coming behind him, that can aid in the fundraising that he will need to be successful in the primary.”