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Iowa Evangelicals Issue Mixed Verdict Before Caucus Vote

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Score one split-decision victory for Rick Santorum. The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, long admired in the evangelical community, failed to receive the endorsement of the Iowa-based social conservative group the Family Leader, which unexpectedly announced on Tuesday that it would remain neutral in the GOP presidential primary. But he did receive the support of its leader, Bob Vander Plaats, who said he is personally endorsing Santorum.

In a sense, Tuesday’s news was also a victory for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, arguably two of Iowa’s front-runners. They’ve polled well in the state despite holding little appeal for many evangelicals. Romney is viewed with suspicion because of his Mormon faith and because of his past deviations on abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Paul fares little better with them because of his libertarian bent. But neither candidate commands sufficient support in Iowa to fend off a candidate able to consolidate the large evangelical vote, which exit polls in 2008 showed to be about 60 percent of the GOP caucus total. Romney learned that the hard way four years ago, when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee zoomed past him to victory in Iowa.

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