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Evangelical leaders try to unite behind Rick Santorum

Evangelical leaders want to use whatever clout they have to help a strong conservative advance in South Carolina’s primary, upsetting frontrunner Mitt Romney, who is viewed as too moderate.

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Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum leaves the Cook Out restaurant, Friday, Jan. 13, 2012, in Gaffney, S.C.

Matt Rourke/AP

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In a bid to sway the South Carolina vote, national evangelical leaders, meeting at a ranch west of Houston, on Saturday rallied behind former Sen. Rick Santorum for the GOP presidential nomination.

Many came into the meeting committed to other candidates, especially former Speaker Newt Gingrich. All of the candidates, except former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, sent surrogates to make a case for support.

But in the end, evangelical leaders want to use whatever clout they have to help a strong conservative advance in South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary, upsetting frontrunner Mitt Romney, who is viewed as too moderate – or too Mormon.

“There was a desire to see a true conservative emerge to secure the nomination, and the overwhelming belief was that a true conservative has the best chance of winning a direct election against Barack Obama,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, in a conference call with reporters after the Saturday morning vote.

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