WASHINGTON – Moments before Rick Santorum learned hed won the Alabama and Mississippi primaries, an unnamed supporter emerged from the crowd at his victory rally and called on the audience to take a knee and pray for success.
All the Christians in the room had a job to do, he said in the Lafayette, La., hotel ballroom on March 13, and that is to fight until their last breath, in their own city or state, to help Santorums bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
With minimal campaign organization and less money than his rivals, Santorum has boosted his campaign with the votes of a network of evangelical Christians, anti-abortion rights activists and home-schooling parents who are resisting frontrunner Mitt Romney. In a March 8-11 national Bloomberg Poll, likely voters who described themselves as born again or evangelical Christian backed Santorum by 42 percent compared with 28 percent for Romney.
Romneys inability to close out the race has given Santorum a golden opportunity to unite social conservatives behind him, and they are getting in line, said Keith Appell, a Republican public relations executive who works with social conservative groups.
Parents who home-school their children are spreading the message on Facebook. Southern Baptist pastors are promoting Santorums candidacy to their members. Anti-abortion rights advocates are boarding the Rick Bus for multistate voter mobilization tours.
Two days before Tennessees primary, Santorum attended services on March 4 at the Bellevue Baptist Church, a 7,000-member organization in the Memphis suburbs. We so desperately need for God to raise up godly people who will run for office, said Pastor Steve Gaines, as he placed his hand on Santorums shoulder to give him a blessing. So lets pray for Rick.
Santorum won the states primary.
Such efforts are helping the former Pennsylvania senator compensate for a campaign operation that trails Romney in every measure of strength: money, staff, and organization.
Romney raised $63 million for his campaign through January, compared with $7 million by Santorum. Santorum had spent $148,806 on salaries and benefits through January; Romneys personnel costs have exceeded $4.5 million. Santorum recently opened a national campaign headquarters in Virginia; Romneys offices near Boston Harbor have been open nearly a year.
Despite those disadvantages, Santorum has won 10 state contests in the Republican race and held Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, to a 3-percentage-point victory in Michigan and 1-point win in Ohio.
Hes tapping into well-organized yet loosely affiliated groups of activists whose leaders consider Santorum one of them. Santorum has piggybacked on the top of other existing grass-roots networks, said Cleta Mitchell, his campaign counsel. Theyre basically activating their networks on his behalf.
The conservative movement now is taking over and theyre doing what needs to be done, said Richard Viguerie, a Republican direct mail strategist who backs Santorum.