Getting the evangelical vote is very important for the 2012 election. It seems the evangelicals are supporting Santorum. The GOP primary is getting really interesting.
(Reuters) - Signs that Rick Santorum is suddenly a contender in the race for the Republican nomination for president were all over Iowa on Thursday.
The former Pennsylvania senator - who has built his long-shot campaign around trying to appeal to evangelical Christians in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday - received a boost when several prominent preachers said their followers were coalescing behind Santorum.
Many evangelicals see Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, as too moderate and Paul, a Texas congressman backed by libertarians, as unelectable. The winner of the Republican nomination faces Democratic President Barack Obama in November.
In perhaps the most significant sign that Santorum had arrived as a contender, Texas Governor Rick Perry - the third candidate in the GOP field who has made a special point of attracting evangelicals - launched a negative radio ad against Santorum.
In campaign parlance, Perry's ad - which accused Santorum of backing costly spending projects while in the Senate - was a sign of respect, an acknowledgement that Santorum had broken from the back of the pack of Republican contenders.
The good vibes for Santorum came a day after a CNN/ORC poll indicated that he was running a best-ever third in the Republican race in Iowa, behind Romney and Paul and ahead of one-time leader Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker.
The poll, and evangelicals' flocking to Santorum on Thursday, are signs that he is having at least some success in trying to follow the 2008 strategy of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucuses before fading out of the race.
Several Christian leaders who support Santorum say they believe they have persuaded many evangelicals to unite behind Santorum.
Evangelicals made up about 60 percent of the Republican vote in Iowa in 2008, helping power Huckabee to a surprise victory over Romney.