Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has corralled one of the top names in the conservative evangelical movement, winning the endorsement of Donald E. Wildmon, founder and chairman of the American Family Association and American Family Radio, in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Separately, one of Iowa’s best-known Christian conservatives, Bob Vander Plaats of the Family Leader, gave a boost to the long-shot campaign of former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, giving his “personal” endorsement to Mr. Santorum ahead of Iowa´s critical Jan. 3 caucuses. The board of the Iowa-based evangelical organization voted as a whole to remain neutral in the race.
Mr. Wildmon announced his endorsement Tuesday and plans to campaign with Mr. Gingrich ahead of next month´s vote. Social conservatives, which the thrice-married Mr. Gingrich has struggled to win over, traditionally constitute a critical bloc in Iowa’s GOP caucuses.
Mr. Wildmon´s move comes at a critical time for Mr. Gingrich, whose lead in the polls has withered under attack from rival candidates such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Reps. Ron Paul of Texas and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. Mr. Gingrich has fallen from first place in several recent polls nationally and in early-voting states.
“Newt Gingrich recognizes the threat to our country posed by judges and lawyers imposing values upon the country inconsistent with our religious heritage, and has proposed constitutional steps to bring the courts back in balance under the Constitution,” Mr. Wildmon in a statement.
“We need someone in the White House who can balance the budget and get the economy moving again,” he said. “Newt has done it before, and I believe he can do it again. I am proud to endorse Newt Gingrich for president.”
The American Family Association claims to be “one of the largest and most effective pro-family organizations in the country,” and the group´s radio network comprises 190 radio stations in 20 states, including six in Iowa.
Mr. Gingrich also won another high-profile endorsement in the state Tuesday, announcing the backing of Iowa state House Speaker Kraig Paulsen.
Mr. Santorum, who has struggled for media time and cash, could also get a boost from the endorsement of Mr. Vander Plaats and of Chuck Hurley, who heads the Family Leader’s Family Policy Center. Iowa’s evangelical voters proved critical to the 2008 caucus win by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, but polls show that the state’s social conservatives have yet to coalesce around a GOP candidate this time around.