Conservatives torn over defending, opposing Romney

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Post-Iowa, things went sour for this group. Romney’s second-in-a-row win in New Hampshire on Tuesday solidified his standing atop the GOP field. He was followed in that race not by Santorum but by Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Gingrich and Perry also drew only tepid support in the opening contests.

Now, everyone’s looking to South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary as potentially the last stand for the anti-Romney crowd.

“He is not anything near conservative enough,” said Rock Hill, S.C., resident Carlene Madison, 54, shaking her head and making an unpleasant face.

Polling shows Romney gaining ground in South Carolina. A poll conducted Jan. 4-5 by CNN/Time/ORC International showed Romney with the support of 37 percent of the state’s likely Republican primary voters, up from 20 percent a month earlier. He won Iowa with only 25 percent of the vote and New Hampshire with a more robust 38 percent.

Romney also won the endorsement this week of former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, a favorite of conservatives for his consistent criticism of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy.

Romney has a difficult history with South Carolina’s Republican voters, who are some of the nation’s most conservative. In exit polling from the 2008 Republican presidential contest there, 60 percent of primary voters said they were born-again Christians. Romney, whose Mormon faith is not considered a Christian denomination by some, carried just 11 percent of their votes, fewer than his 15 percent tally overall. Mormons consider themselves Christians.

Conservatives looking to back someone else have a heavy workload in a compressed period of time. Romney’s closest rival, Santorum, is 18 points behind in South Carolina, followed by Gingrich, Paul, Perry and Huntsman, according to the CNN/Time/ORC International poll. Six percent are undecided, the survey found.

Jeffress, the Baptist minister, who once called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a cult and doesn’t consider it a Christian faith, said he is skipping the Texas conference of conservatives but might eventually recommend voting for the former Massachusetts governor.

His rationale: “It’s probably better to embrace a non-Christian like Romney, who embraces biblical values like the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage, rather than a professing Christian like President Obama, who embraces unbiblical positions.”

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Associated Press writers Shannon McCaffrey and AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll in South Carolina contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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