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Iowa Christian conservative leaders endorse Santorum over Bachmann

Bob Vander Plaats, the head of the Iowa Christian conservative organization the Family Leader, has endorsed Rick Santorum for president over Michele Bachmann.

The Family Leader, as an institution, decided to remain neutral in the Republican presidential nomination contest, but it allowed Vander Plaats to endorse. Activist Chuck Hurley joined him in endorsing Santorum, a former Pennsylvania Senator, the Des Moines Register reports.

The fact that the Family Leader as a whole did not endorse a single candidate illustrates the inability of conservative evangelicals to coalesce behind one Republican currently running. Weeks ago, the organization was able to eliminate four candidate from consideration for its endorsement, but the board apparently remained split on the remaining candidates: Bachmann, Santorum, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.

Polling shows the same thing is happening among the electorate at large. In the latest survey of Iowans from Public Policy Polling, four candidates received more than 10 percent among respondents who said social issues were the most issue in the 2012 election. Santorum leads that pack with 29 percent. Bachmann checks in at 15 percent.

Vander Plaats and the Family Leader have been very active in the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses, holding a 99-county tour of the state and hosting a November presidential forum. It circulated a controversial family values-based pledge during the summer, which Bachmann was the first to sign over the summer. Whether Vander Plaats's endorsement can unite social conservatives is still to be seen.

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com.

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