CAIRO - Seeking to pick up a conservative Christian nominee to run against US President Barack Obama, evangelical leaders have thrown their weight behind Rick Santorum as the favorite Republican candidate for this year's presidential elections.
There was a desire to see a true conservative emerge to secure the nomination, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council said in a press conference Saturday, January 14, said, the Christian Science Monitor reported.
And the overwhelming belief was that a true conservative has the best chance of winning a direct election against Barack Obama.
A group of 150 influential evangelical leaders met Saturday to endorse a candidate for the Republican nomination for this year's presidential elections.
After heated discussions, they agreed to put weight behind aspirant Santorum, a Catholic, who has a strong position against gay marriage and abortion.
Most Republican aspirants have sent representatives to the meeting to win support of the evangelical leaders.
Santorum was picked up after a strong race with former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who won only 29 votes against 85 for Santorum.
The evangelical endorsement is expected to give a strong boost to Santorum, who narrowly lost the Iowa caucasus to Mitt Romney earlier this month.
"There is clearly a united group here that is committed to see ... a true conservative elected to the White House," said Perkins.
The evangelical endorsement comes days before South Carolina primary on January 21.
"It will have an impact in South Carolina and in shifting support to the consensus candidate which is Rick Santorum," Perkins said.
Santorum may need the help.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Saturday showed Romney with a huge lead in the state, with 37 percent of the vote. Santorum and libertarian Ron Paul were tied for second at 16 percent.
But experts believe that the evangelical support would do little in the presidential election.
What we are seeing today is nothing like the influence we saw in the 1980s and 90s, said Robert Jones, who heads the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington.
The days of kingmakers in a small room deciding the GOP nominee are over.
Focus on Family laid off hundreds of people, the Crystal Cathedral for sale, and the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition are no more," he added.
In 2008, the evangelical vote swung behind ordained Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee, giving him a surprise early victory over all Republican Party hopefuls, even the eventual nominee, veteran Senator John McCain.
A report by the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals estimated about 30 percent to 35 percent of the nation's population -- or about 100 million people -- identifies themselves as being an evangelical.
Evangelicals have long been the most faithful Republican supporters, with 37 percent of all Republican and Republican-leaning voters being evangelical Protestants.They played a pivotal role in tilting the scales in former president George W. Bush's favor in his 2004 re-election bid.