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UPDATE: Influential Iowa Evangelical Leaders Endorse Santorum

Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley give their nod to the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, which could give his organization a boost.

Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley, two of Iowa's most high-profile and influential evangelical leaders, today endorsed Rick Santorum for the GOP nomination for president and called for other candidates to drop out of the race to join behind him.

The endorsements, while a boost for Santorum, were personal and not on behalf of their religious organizations, which may indicate that the fractured social conservative vote in Iowa remains so.

Vander Plaats, president of The Family Leader, was the Iowa state chairman for Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign, which he lost to John McCain after winning the Iowa caucuses. Last year The Hill named the Vander Plaats endorsement as one of the top 10 coveted endorsements of Republicans running for president.

Hurley is a Family Leader board member and president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, which is under the parent Family Leader organization.

The endorsements were from Vander Plaats and Hurley personally, not their groups, which are associated with The Family Research Council, a national far-right conservative group led by Tony Perkins. 

In calling for other candidates to drop out of the GOP race, Hurley said that was the best way to beat President Obama in the general election and ensure that a social conservative made it to the White House.

"You can win when you put other people ahead of yourselves," Hurley said. "It’s a hard issue. …Not everybody can be president. Because of the fracture of the caucus vote, this calls for a special humility. This calls for a team approach.”

Santorum was in Iowa on Tuesday, and said told Patch he is excited about the endorsement during a campaign stop in Mount Pleasant.

"I am very excited about it. I think it shows our campaign is the one that has the momentum, and they have the confidence we can carry the conservative message on all fronts to this Republican primary to take on moderates, Gingrich and Romney," Santorum told Patch.  

The endorsements were made in Urbandale in the lobby of a Comfort Suites hotel, right next to one of the favorite stops of candidates, the Machine Shed restaurant.

Last month, four candidates from endorsement consideration: Herman Cain, John Huntsman, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney.

That left Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Santorum.

The Family Leader's board of directors, though, seemed split on who to support, and the tone of news conference today indicated that the divisions ran deep. Hurley said that one unnamed member of his group promised to "burn Bob (Vander Plaat’s) body, drag it through the streets, and hang it from a fence," if he didn't back his candidate, who was not named.

"Our fear all along is that the conservatives would fragment their votes," VanderPlaats said. "In our assessment, we believe Rick Santorum is the best one to launch out of Iowa…Hopefully, this gives him a stamp of credibility that some people are waiting for.”

The endorsements could provide a much-needed organizational boost for Santorum, and could drive a fractured social-conservative base to vote for him. Santorum has been lagging near the bottom of Iowa polls. 

Jamie Johnson, Santorum's Iowa coalitions director, said after the announcement that he hopes the endorsements will prompt people to get on board with their checkbooks.

"We need a fund-raising fix right now in a big way," he said. "But whether we have full funding or a widow's mite, we will move ahead....in full expectation of an Iowa miracle on Jan. 3."

He said he doesn't think the endorsement is less valuable because it is not from the organization. "To many people in Iowa, Bob Vander Plaats is The Family Leader and The Family Leader is Bob Vander Plaats."

Vander Plaats promised to do all he can to help Santorum win.

The nod from Vander Plaats and Hurley is also a blow to Gingrich, who actively courted their endorsements and that of their organizations.

Earlier this month, Gingrich wrote a letter to the group promising to be faithful to his third wife and to do everything in his power to forbid gay people from marrying each other.

He did not, though, sign the pledge The Family Leader said would be required to win its endorsement.

That pledge begins, "Faithful monogamy is at the very heart of a designed and purposeful order — as conveyed by Jewish and Christian Scripture, by Classical Philosophers, by Natural Law, and by the American Founders — upon which our concepts of Creator-endowed human rights, racial justice and gender equality all depend."

Santorum signed that pledge.

Vander Plaats ran three failed campaigns for governor, most recently losing in the primary to current Gov. Terry Branstad, who has not endorsed for the January 3 caucuses.


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