WASHINGTON - The endorsement of Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum by church leaders to run against incumbent president Barack Obama has failed to influence US evangelicals to endorse the candidate.
"I make decisions for myself and I don't listen to what a bunch of leaders say to do," Victoria Jaworowski, who attends the Cathedral of Praise mega-church in North Charleston, told Reuters.
A group of influential evangelical leaders on Saturday endorsed Santorum as the favorite Republican candidate to run against Obama in this year's presidential race.
The evangelical leaders narrowly endorsed the former Pennsylvania senator in a vote that went to the third ballot.
Santorum touted the endorsement as proving that he is a better choice to take on Obama.
"They know I'm the consistent conservative," Santorum said on "Fox News Sunday."
"They saw me as someone who has the best chance of winning."
It is not clear how the endorsement will help Santorum in terms of money or staff to help him campaign.
Santorum, a Catholic, rode the support of evangelical voters to a surprise second-place finish in Iowa's January 3 caucus, losing to Mitt Romney by just eight votes.
But he finished far back in the pack a week later in New Hampshire, where religiously motivated voters are less prominent.
The Republican aspirants are set to compete again on January 21, in South Carolina, who account for more than half of South Carolina's Republican voters.
Romney has opened up a 21-point lead in the state ahead of the primary as the conservative vote remains splintered, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Saturday.
Many voters say they are willing to overlook Romney's moderate past in order to unite behind a candidate who can beat Obama in the November 6 election.
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.
Several members of the First Baptist Church in Florence, South Carolina, said they had not decided on a candidate.
"You just haven't seen that standard bearer rise up," insurance salesman Mike Newton told Reuters.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Santorum getting 16 percent of the vote, tied for second place with US Representative Ron Paul.
Paul, who attracts a fervent libertarian following, has not campaigned in the state in the past week.
Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry also have courted evangelicals and other conservatives, while Romney has won support from the party's business wing.
Senator Jim DeMint, a leader among conservatives, praised Santorum and Gingrich at a Tea Party convention in Myrtle Beach but said he would not make an endorsement.
Santorum spoke on Saturday at Cathedral of Praise, one of the state's largest evangelical churches, and Gingrich addressed the congregation on Sunday.
The church's pastor, Mike Lewis, said he would remain neutral in the primary.
"Though we can't endorse any of them or stand in opposition, we can be nice to them," he said before introducing Gingrich.
South Carolina could be a make-or-break-state for many candidates.
The winner of South Carolina's primary has gone on to capture the Republican nomination in every election since 1980.
Those who finish far back could have a hard time raising money and convincing voters in other states that they are still viable.Gingrich and Perry said they would reassess their campaigns if they did not win or come in second in South Carolina.