UPDATE: In what may be a crushing final blow to Perry, anti-gay leaders back Santorum

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Rick Santorum

If Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential hopes weren’t dead already, they almost certainly are now. We told you Friday that a group of national evangelical leaders gathering in Brenham, Texas, this weekend wasn’t likely to reach a consensus about which candidate to support in the Republican presidential race as an alternative to Mitt Romney. But apparently we spoke too soon. The Huffington Post reports today that the group has endorsed Rick Santorum, who is widely considered the most anti-gay candidate in the race:

“Rick Santorum has consistently articulated the issues that are of concern to conservatives, both economic and social,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, speaking on behalf of the attendees. “He has woven those into a very solid platform. And he has a record of stability.”

Added Perkins: “He obviously is not up to some of the other candidates in terms of fundraising, but those issues can be corrected. With this strong consensus coming behind him, that can aid in the fundraising that he needs to be successful in the primary.”

The group of religious conservative leaders met on Friday and Saturday at the Brenham ranch of former judge and Southern Baptist leader Paul Pressler. The assemblage did not release a full list of its members, although radio host James Dobson, Don Wildmon of the American Family Association and pastor Jon Hagee were among the invited.

Santorum emerged as the winner after three rounds of balloting, with the final vote between him and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Santorum eventually received the support of more than two-thirds of those voting. Texas Gov. Rick Perry also received strong support.

—  John Wright

With their golden boy Rick Perry in trouble, anti-gay leaders to gather again in Texas

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Rick Santorum

Back in August, hundreds of evangelical leaders, including the likes of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, gathered on a ranch west of Austin to meet with Gov. Rick Perry, who had just launched his campaign for president and appeared to be their golden boy.

Five months later, after Perry’s fifth-place finish in Iowa, many of those same leaders will gather again next weekend on a ranch in Brenham, Texas — halfway between Austin and Houston — to decide whether they can unite behind another candidate in the GOP presidential race whose name isn’t Mitt Romney. And this time, Perry isn’t invited. The Christian Post reports:

An invitation that was sent on Wednesday read in part, “You and your spouse are cordially invited to a private meeting with national conservative leaders of faith at the ranch of Paul and Nancy Pressler near Brenham, Texas with the purpose of attempting to unite and come to a consensus on which Republican presidential candidate to support or which not to support.”

The group of evangelicals includes Don Wildmon, the former chairman of the American Family Association and a supporter of Newt Gingrich, former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, and Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson.

“Yes, I received the invitation but I have decided not to attend,” said one prominent conservative leader who asked not to be identified.

“I know what they’re trying to accomplish but I don’t think anything is going to come out of it. There will be lots of discussion about [Rick] Santorum’s candidacy and even some who are going will advocate for [Newt] Gingrich and maybe a few who have holds that Perry can catch a second wind. But I just don’t see the group reaching a consensus,” he added.

Perry is polling at just 1 percent in New Hampshire, where he hasn’t campaigned, and 5 percent in South Carolina, where he plans to focus his efforts leading up to the Palmetto State’s Jan. 21 primary. According to The Washington Post, social conservatives fear that having too many right-wing candidates in the race will splinter the evangelical vote, allowing Romney to pull away. But it’s unlikely they’ll try to force anyone out until after South Carolina:

In an interview Friday with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Richard Land, a prominent Christian conservative and president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said that social conservative leaders are increasingly enthusiastic about Santorum — but they’re worried that his candidacy could face the same fate as Huckabee’s 2008 bid, which faltered in South Carolina as social conservatives splintered between the former Arkansas governor and former senator Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), allowing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to eke out a win.

“We don’t want to make the same mistake this time that we made with Huckabee in 2008,” Land said. “People didn’t rally around Huckabee as the social conservative alternative because they didn’t think he could win until it was too late, and McCain had the nomination sewed up.”

He noted that if one combined the vote totals of Santorum, former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), “you would’ve out-voted Romney two-to-one in Iowa.”

“But because of the division among the conservative candidates, there is real concern that Romney will win without having to face one concentrated effort of a conservative challenger,” he said.

—  John Wright

Rick Perry fails to win support of anti-gay leaders; TV ad backfiring among some Iowa Republicans

Gov. Rick Perry

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign suffered yet another setback Tuesday when Bob Vander Plaats, a leading social conservative in Iowa who serves as president of the anti-gay Family Leader organization, endorsed Rick Santorum in the state’s Jan. 3 Republican Caucus.

Perry’s campaign had actively courted the Family Leader’s endorsement, and he signed the group’s controversial “marriage pledge” last month. Politico notes that Perry is in a three-way battle for Iowa’s coveted evangelical vote against Santorum and Michele Bachmann. Vander Plaats’ endorsement could help determine who moves on to New Hampshire and who does not.

Adding salt to Perry’s wounds, Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, endorsed Newt Gingrich on Tuesday. If you’ll remember, the AFA, which is considered an anti-gay hate group, teamed with Perry for The Response, the August prayer rally in Houston that served as a kickoff for his presidential campaign — and at which Wildmon embraced Perry on stage. Right Wing Watch reports on Wildmon’s endorsement of Gingrich:

Wildmon today appeared on Focal Point with Bryan Fischer where he explained that while he was initially “ecstatic” about Rick Perry’s candidacy, he decided that because of the Texas governor’s disastrous debate appearances his candidacy “cannot recover.” Wildmon said that electability matters because “we are facing the most critical election this nation has ever seen, the stake in this election is Western civilization.”

Despite Tuesday’s setbacks, The Dallas Morning News’ Wayne Slater reports that Perry, who’s still polling in the lower tier of candidates, plans to remain in the race beyond Iowa regardless of where he finishes. But Slater also notes the Perry’s infamous anti-gay TV ad, “Strong,” appears to be backfiring among some Republican voters:

At a historic hotel in Maquoketa, 61-year-old Len Ditch sat in the front row, wearing a Perry for President sticker. He said he liked Perry’s commercials in Iowa — especially one recommending that Congress be made part-time. He liked another one advocating prayer in schools but questioned why Perry had included a reference to gays serving openly in the military.

“I don’t believe in the gay world. But I believe live and let live,” he said.

Meanwhile, KWQC Channel 6 in Davenport, Iowa, has posted a transcript from an interview with Perry in which the station asked Perry about “Strong” and whether he thinks being gay is a choice. Read the excerpt below:

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Email suggests day of prayer designed as kickoff for Rick Perry’s campaign

AFA founder Don Wildmon

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and organizers of his recent day of prayer in Houston, “The Response,” have repeatedly insisted that the event wasn’t politically motivated. But an email sent to the Response’s registration list on Thursday shows that they were completely full of shit. The email, signed by American Family Association founder Don Wildmon, encourages those who attended the Response to help recruit “5 million unregistered conservative Christians to register and vote according to the Biblical worldview in 2012.” And when Wildmon says “vote according to the Biblical worldview,” he means “vote for Perry,” because it’s pretty clear at this point that the Response was little more than a kickoff for Perry’s presidential campaign, which he formally announced only one week later. Need more evidence? According to a poll on the AFA’s website this week, 49 percent of respondents support Perry for the GOP nomination. Michele Bachmann is second with just 17 percent. Read the full text of Wildmon’s email below.

2. The White House unveiled new immigration policy Thursday that could prevent some binational same-sex couples from being torn apart. Under the policy, the administration will review all 300,000 pending deportation cases and identify them as high priority or low priority. The criteria will include family relationships, and same-sex couples meet the definition of family.

3. Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold announced today that he won’t be a candidate for Senate in 2012, which is good news for those who want lesbian Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin to run.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Gov. Perry thanks the leader of the anti-gay hate group that funded his day of prayer

The Human Rights Campaign has launched a petition calling on Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who’s a close second in the latest GOP presidential poll, to denounce the anti-gay extremists who funded his day of prayer last weekend — and whom he thanked during his remarks at the end of the event. Watch video above of Perry thanking Don Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, among others.

Below is the text of the petition, which you can sign by going here.

Governor Perry –

I was disturbed by your organization of last week’s anti-gay, Christian-only day of prayer in Texas, and I was alarmed to see you openly embrace notorious anti-gay leaders.

The organizers of The Response represent the worst of the worst – they preach intolerance toward others under the guise of love and spread hateful rhetoric that has dangerous consequences. Your alignment with and support of these people demonstrates your inability to serve as a national leader for all Americans.

I urge you to show true leadership by publically denouncing these extremists. It is the right thing to do, and it will send a strong message that you are capable of leading all Americans – not just the small, radical fringe you currently represent.

—  John Wright