- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2012

Prominent evangelical and other religious-right leaders invited to a private “Stop Romney” meeting in Texas this weekend are pessimistic about the chances of agreeing on a mutually acceptable alternative to the GOP presidential front-runner, one of those invited has told The Washington Times.

“The goal is to see if what occurred in 2008 can be avoided in 2012. Keep conservatives from being fractured and allowing a non-conservative to capture the nomination only to lose the general election,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian think tank.

Mr. Perkins, who participated in a weekend conference call with others invited to the meeting, said the religious and social conservatives on the call were not optimistic.

“Will they coalesce around one candidate?” Liberty Institute President Kelley Schackelford said to The Times. “It is possible, but not probable.”

[Editor’s note: Earlier online versions of this article mistakenly attributed the above quote to Mr. Perkins.]

The meeting is to be held at the Brenham, Texas, ranch of Paul and Nancy Pressler, both supporters of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Mr. Perkins said he would be unable to attend.

The meeting’s purpose is to have leaders drop support if necessary for their favored anti-Romney candidate in order to settle on one of the former Massachusetts governor’s rivals. They all claim to be to his right on fiscal and social issues. The anti-Romney options include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Mr. Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who was President Obama’s ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, is not on the evangelical’s “Stop Romney” list.

“That coalescence is not going to happen before South Carolina, and since these early primaries are not winner take all, as in the past, we have time,” Mr. Perkins said.

He said that he gleaned from the conference call a sense that clarity on the issue may not come until after the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary or even the Jan. 31 Florida primary.

Some expressed doubts that Mr. Santorum’s post-Iowa-caucus boost has a shelf life of more than a few weeks. And they do not want to go on the record endorsing a falling star.

Many major figures on the religious right had privately dismissed Mr. Santorum as unable to raise the money to go the distance against Mr. Romney. The Santorum skeptics tend to divide their candidate preference between Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Perry as the likelier choices to stop Mr. Romney.

Some of those invited to the Pressler ranch told The Times that had they agreed to back former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee early enough in the 2008 nomination contests, he would have been the GOP nominee and could have defeated the relatively inexperienced Democratic candidate, Barack Obama.

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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