New SC Poll: Romney 23, Gingrich 21, Santorum 14, as Religious Right Leaders Meet in Texas to Unite
Rachel Tabachnick printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Jan 12, 2012 at 04:45:46 PM EST
In order to avoid a repeat of 2008, Religious Right leaders made an unprecedented show of unity behind Rick Perry's "non-partisan" prayer rally in Houston on August 6. One week later, while other candidates were involved in the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa, Perry announced his candidacy from Charleston, South Carolina. The latest poll, taken January 11, shows Perry with only 5 percent support for the January 21 South Carolina primary.

Can right-wing evangelical leaders unite in a last-ditch effort to nominate anybody but Romney? Which candidate would it be?

Following the Iowa Caucus, it looked like Rick Santorum might be the logical choice as a consensus candidate. But the latest poll in South Carolina shows Newt Gingrich, not Santorum, gaining ground against Romney. Gingrich has also demonstrated the ability to attract large sums of Super PAC funding, which is proving to be critical as millions are being spent on advertising in early primary states. The Gingrich-supporting Winning our Future Super PAC has  drawn national attention with its video about Romney's role with Bain Capital Private Equity.

On Friday, January 13, approximately 125 evangelical leaders will be meeting at the Texas ranch of Paul Pressler, one of the architects of the "Fundamentalist Takeover" of the Southern Baptist Convention.  As reported in  TIME, Donald Wildmon, retired founder of the American Family Association, has asked invitees to,

"be willing to compromise and change your choice to one that the body as a whole supports in order to not divide our strength."

Orangeburg billboard two The ability of this group of leaders, and those they represent, to still alter the course of the election should not be dismissed. We have yet to see what they could do in a presidential primary if there was consensus among the leadership, and if that message was passed on to the millions of Americans networked through their churches, various para-church organizations and their state affiliates, and other Religious Right mobilization efforts including the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) prayer warrior networks.

[Above is August, 2010 photo of an American Family Association billboard in Orangeburg, South Carolina.]

The problem is agreeing on a candidate.  Richard Land, headlined in the TIME article, is strongly opposed to Gingrich because he has too much baggage, or "too much freight," as Land stated. Wildmon has endorsed Gingrich. Gary Bauer has endorsed Santorum. This is just an example of the fracturing that has taken place since Perry's catastrophic failure on the national stage.

Romney won only 11 percent of the evangelical vote in South Carolina in 2008, and a win for Romney on January 21 would likely guarantee that none of the other candidates have a chance.

It wasn't supposed to end like this.

The Best Laid Plans...  

Donald Wildmon's American Family Association (AFA) financed Perry's prayer event, which included a seldom seen unity of Religious Right leaders in concert with a potential presidential candidate. Wildmon, who turned the AFA over to his son Tim in 2010, received recognition and provided his blessing over the event, along with other major leaders, including James Dobson, Vonette Bright, Tony Perkins, and Penny Nance.  These are leaders and founders, current and retired, of organizations with extensive media capabilities, national clout, and state affiliates.

Following the event, the mailing list for The Response was used to encourage support for United in Purpose/Champion the Vote. United in Purpose is funded in part by Ken Eldred, whose Living Stones Foundation has also funded the American Family Association as well as numerous NAR ministries and media efforts.  Eldred's foundation is one of the sponsors of Sentinel Group, which produces the Transformations series of movies.  The first in the series featured Kenyan Thomas Muthee, perhaps now better known for his anointing of Sarah Palin at Wasilla Assembly of God prior to her run for governor.

Both the AFA and United in Purpose are behind the coordination of Pastors Policy Briefings held across the country, hosting thousands of pastors and their wives in South Carolina, Florida, and other states.  The seminars have featured several of the GOP candidates including Perry, Santorum, and Bachmann, but most frequently Gingrich.  

The latest DVD production sponsored by United in Purpose features only Newt Gingrich among the GOP candidates, along with major Religious Right figures David Barton, James Dobson, and others.  Also featured in the DVD is Samuel Rodriguez, president of the  National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC).

The efforts for 2012 have included extensive outreach to Hispanic and African Americans, with NAR Apostle Rodriguez and Prophet Harry Jackson leading the way. Jackson is a member of the NAR's Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders, now under the apostolic authority of Cindy Jacobs.  Both Rodriguez and Jackson were part of Rick Perry's prayer event and Rodriguez' NHCLC is an official partner with Champion the Vote's effort to register Hispanic evangelical voters. Curiously, both Rodriguez and Jackson have received extensive publicity in secular and Christian press as "moderate" and "nonpartisan" evangelicals and have been courted by the Democratic Party, thus raising their public profiles.

The American Family Association and other major Religious Right organizations have been working side-by-side with NAR apostles and prophets for several years. The NAR prayer networks currently have a project to recruit 10,000 prayer warriors per state. The effort to impact the 2012 elections has been announced at numerous locations over the last few months, including by Cindy Jacobs at the Wasilla Assembly of God in Alaska.

The official countdown to the election, called "Fast Forward," began on January 3 with an event in D.C. featuring Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, along with NAR leaders Dutch Sheets, Cindy Jacobs, and Harry Jackson. See Right Wing Watch's coverage here and here. [Correction: It was advertised as featuring Tony Perkins, but FRC's Pierre Bynum participated in his place.]

An impressive array of Religious Right leaders participated in Perry's August prayer rally, with even more endorsing the event. One after another NAR apostles showed up on stage, with others, including C. Peter Wagner, out of sight of the cameras. The event was advertised and live-streamed across the nation and internationally televised on God TV.

Photobucket Political messages were subtle and missed by the press, including the significance of C.L. Jackson and Apostle Alice Patterson standing next to Perry while he spoke.  Patterson, who leads a ministry with the former chair of the Republican State Party, is a model for outreach efforts to African American churches with a narrative that literally demonizes the Democratic Party.

Perry was a candidate who would be embraced by both the right-wing flank and the business wing of the party.  He had the right experience and understood the need for outreach to minority voters in 2012.

Perry was supposed to the be the knight in shining armor, riding in to unify the GOP.  As it turned out, once in the national spotlight, he fell off the horse.  His public humiliation has resulted in chaos.


AFA founder Wildmon has since endorsed Gingrich, while controversial AFA radio broadcaster Bryan Fischer has described Gingrich as "fatally flawed and bleeding from too many self-induced wounds."  Fischer continues to support Perry against all odds.  This is just one of many examples of the inability of otherwise like-minded leaders to agree on a candidate.

Perry refuses to bow out. "The Response" prayer rally concept is being repeated in the primary states, with one held in Iowa on December 6, and another scheduled for Greenville, South Carolina on January 17. The International House of Prayer's Luis Cataldo, who led part of the Houston Response event, is the figure credited in media promotion for the continued effort. Cataldo has also emceed some of the Pastors' Policy Briefings. Right Wing Watch noted a tweet advertising Perry's participation in the upcoming South Carolina event.

Ironically, and perhaps adding to the confusion, none of the remaining viable candidates are Protestant evangelicals.  Both Gingrich and Santorum are Roman Catholic, although Gingrich was previously Southern Baptist. This is apparently less of an issue than Romney's Mormonism and certainly less of a concern than the candidates' position on the issues and their electability.  The embrace of Catholic candidates by evangelicals is the topic of a current article in Huffington Post, which points out that Santorum support in New Hampshire was 23 percent evangelical and only 8 percent Catholic.

Photobucket A New York Times article titled The Tea Party's Not-So-Civil War, emphasizes similar fractures among Tea Party organizations in South Carolina. Leadership is divided between almost all of the candidates, including Ron Paul. The state's Tea Party organizations will be holding their first statewide conference at Myrtle Beach on January 15 and 16. Featured speakers include Senator Jim DeMint, who has not endorsed a candidate, and Governor Nikki Haley, who has received criticism for her support of Romney.  The GOP primary candidates have been invited to speak and current publicity indicates that Gingrich and Santorum will attend.

[Photo above was taken on I-26 in South Carolina in January 2010. Written on one window is “Tea Party No Wimps.” The back window of the car reads, “In 1892 the Supreme Court declared America a Christian Nation!!!”]

In my opinion, the NY Times article overstates the clout of the Tea Parties and underestimates the much larger and better organized Religious Right. It also ignores the fact that there is significant overlap between Tea Partiers and the Religious Right, particularly in Southern states.

Regardless, the inability of the right wing of the GOP to coalesce behind an alternate to Romney is the challenge.  If they could unite, they might  change the course of the GOP primaries.  But, as one mainstream press outlet stated, it would take an "act of God."

Frank Seignious has led the SC Apostolic Prayer Network since 2004. One of the stated goals is "to identify, connect, and empower 10,000 leaders on the 7 Mountains in SC." w=article&id=55&Itemid=63  

by Rachel Tabachnick on Thu Jan 12, 2012 at 05:15:49 PM EST

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