When Rick Santorum won the Oklahoma presidential primary in March, he beat Mitt Romney 68 percent to 9 percent among voters who said abortion was the most important issue, according to exit polls. When Santorum won Tennessee, he beat Romney among that demographic 60 percent to 12 percent. Romney's numbers with evangelicals weren't a lot better.
But Romney holds an almost insurmountable delegate lead in the GOP nomination race, and Santorum withdrew from the race April 10, marooning a base of evangelical and pro-life voters.
Some pro-life groups worry that Romney, having come through the primaries without them, will now set sail in the general election campaign without them, too. Conservative evangelicals like Gary Bauer of American Values and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council have advised the Romney campaign to make an effort to win that base, which they say will be key in the general election.
But some pro-life groups quickly rallied around Romney as the clear contrast to President Obama. The National Right to Life Committee endorsed Romney two days after Santorum dropped out. The Susan B. Anthony List, one of the biggest PACs focused on pro-life candidates, endorsed Santorum but also got behind Romney immediately after Santorum dropped out. The group said it will spend $10 to $12 million to support Romney as well as candidates in various Senate races.
"There's no question that we and pro-life voters are smart enough to see the sense in unifying behind Romney right now," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List. "We have a contrast. ... There's a strong argument especially now for defeating Obama. Before [in 2008] it was all theory, what he might do. We lost a lot of evangelical and Catholic votes, frankly. Now he's walked his walk. All the evidence is in."
Dannenfelser said Romney is now a "true believer" in the pro-life cause, even if he was formerly pro-abortion. "He has made commitments throughout that rival any other primary process-on paper and in debates," Dannenfelser said.
Mark DeMoss, an unpaid adviser to Romney and one of his most prominent evangelical supporters, said Romney has a cadre of evangelical counsel in his staff and among his friends. "I believe Gov. Romney wants evangelical support and will continue to work to earn it over the course of the next seven months," DeMoss said in an email. "He seeks and receives input and advice well and I'm convinced he will hold firmly to the positions and policies he has laid out."
Concerned Women for America (CWA) didn't endorse anyone in the Republican primary, but as a Christian pro-life group is almost certain to back Romney over Obama. But CWA president Penny Nance said of Romney, "The establishment got their choice," and noted that it was Santorum who energized pro-life voters and talked about social issues "that people weren't discussing." She said even though the conventional wisdom is that Romney must move to the center in the general campaign, he needs to solidify support from the pro-life base to win. "It's not just getting out the vote, it's the volunteer base," she said. "They'll go canvassing door to door until they have blisters on their feet and do the hard work to win an election."
Of the Romney campaign's outreach to pro-life groups like hers, Nance said, "I look forward to hearing from them."