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Social conservatives looking for a reason to love Romney

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Social conservatives who backed Rick Santorum's presidential campaign said his supporters will get behind Mitt Romney, but warned that the presumptive Republican nominee still has a lot more to do if he wants those activists to man phone banks and knock on doors in the drive to win in November.

"There is no doubt the base is not inspired and history tells us when you don't have an inspired base you get President Obama and not President McCain. You get President Clinton and not President [George H.W.] Bush," said Robert L. Vander Plaats, an influential social conservative in Iowa who heads the social conservative group the Family Leader. "But if you do have an inspired base you get President George W. Bush and you also get President Reagan. Right now, it is not there."

Mr. Vander Plaats said that the only thing now motivating the social conservatives to head to the polls is the desire to get rid of Mr. Obama — not an outpouring of excitement for Mr. Romney.

"There is a big difference between Bob Vander Plaats going into the voting booth and voting against Barack Obama, and Bob Vander Plaats actively mobilizing a network and being deliberate and intentional and inspirational about getting everyone out to the polls," he said. "That's what wins an election."

Mr. Santorum's ended his bid Tuesday, paving the way for Mr. Romney to wrap up the party's nomination before the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., this summer and shift his attention to a general election face-off with Mr. Obama this fall.

With polls showing Mr. Romney trailing Mr. Obama, the Republican faces the tricky political task of winning over a broader electorate while wooing those same social conservatives and evangelical voters attracted by Mr. Santorum's strong support of traditional marriage and pro-life legislation.

Many Santorum supporters also echoed their candidate's warnings that Mr. Romney lacked "core convictions" on those issues and was "uniquely disqualified" to be the nominee because he authored a health care law when he was governor of Massachusetts that closely resembles Mr. Obama's plan.

Mr. Romney said Wednesday that he expects to campaign with Mr. Santorum — who has yet to endorse him — once the nomination is fully wrapped up, and he sounded as if he is counting on conservatives' desire to end Mr. Obama's tenure as a motivating factor in uniting the GOP.

"I think you see our party, and you will see our party, more united that it's been in a long time," Mr. Romney said Wednesday on Fox News. "I think President Obama in some respects is one of the reasons our party will be so united."

But Marilyn Musgrave, a former Republican congresswoman from Colorado now with the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, applauded Mr. Romney's campaign pledge to defund Planned Parenthood, but said he must do more to reach out to abortion opponents before the general election.

"He has work to do," Ms. Musgrave said, adding that pro-lifers will work their hearts out for a candidate they trust.

"You don't want to take [pro-life activists] for granted because some of them just sit it out if they don't have someone who they can believe in. They are voting on core values, on their deeply held beliefs, so they want a candidate who they can really trust and I think people — especially after this president — are really looking for someone who will stand for life."

Gary L. Bauer, president of American Values and a leading voice among social conservatives, said Mr. Romney faces an uphill battle in part because of his political roots in the more liberal Northeast.

"The Republican Party is a Midwest, Southern party," he said. "He was governor of Massachusetts, and that immediately raises eyebrows because Massachusetts has normally been a campaign prop for Republicans running for president — the reason why you represent middle America and not the kind of voters that are in Massachusetts or San Francisco or name your liberal stronghold."

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who switched his support from Mr. Romney to Mr. Santorum in the run-up to his state's primary, said that it is too early to tell how much success Mr. Romney will have rallying the base, but that he has plenty of time to do so.

"Most of the individuals I've talked to today know they're going to vote for Romney," Mr. DeWine said. "The only question is how much passion and energy are they going to put into the race, and I think that can evolve, and I hope it will evolve."

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