TOPICS > Politics

Will Social Conservatives Come Around to Romney?

April 23, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Ahead of Tuesday's GOP primary in Pennsylvania, Mitt Romney is trying to appeal to voters in the political center and the conservative base. Though the presidential campaign has largely evolved into a two-man race between Romney and President Obama, analysts say Romney still needs strong primary showings. Judy Woodruff reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Turning to the presidential election, five more states hold primaries, but the main focus now is on the two-man race between President Obama and Governor Romney and on Romney’s need to appeal to voters in the political center.

The former Massachusetts governor has another important job to pay attention to: reaching out to the GOP conservative base. That’s what he was doing today and in recent days in Pennsylvania.

On this busy historic stretch of road near York, Pennsylvania, where Confederate Gen. Jeb Stuart stopped on his way to the Battle of Gettysburg, a row of yard signs advertised the politics of the family living next door to where, history has it, Stuart slept. Inside the 140-year-old yellow log house lives Lee Ann Burkholder. . .

LEE ANN BURKHOLDER, Tea Party member: Electrical signals cannot jump over the synapse.

JUDY WOODRUFF: . . . homeschooling her two daughters, Malia and Abbey. She helped found a Tea Party group in the area, serves on the Republican state committee, and has been working hard to elect conservatives to office, including Rick Santorum.

LEE ANN BURKHOLDER: I was very disappointed that he got out of the race. I mean, so many candidates, even on a local level, are afraid to talk about the social issues. And the social issues tie into economic issues just as much as jobs and, you know, things like that. And Santorum wasn’t afraid to say what he believed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Both Burkholder and fellow Tea Party leader Ted Waga, who is waging a long-shot bid for Congress, say they still plan for vote for Santorum in Tuesday’s primary, easy since his name remains on the ballot.

TED WAGA, Tea Party member: Yeah, Rick Santorum, who was my candidate because he had strong moral values and principles. I believe that a lot of issues we have in Washington, both fiscally and socially, are due to a lack of morality in Washington.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We originally came to Southeastern Pennsylvania here in Lancaster County and in York County next door because this was to be a hotly contested area in the Republican primary.

Once Rick Santorum dropped out, we were curious about how Mitt Romney is seen by former Santorum supporters and the many undecided conservatives. As we discovered, this reliably red part of the state was a good place to find out.

MAN: It’s 64 degrees at Newsradio 910 WSBA.

MAN: Newt Gingrich may well be on our show tomorrow. He is a true conservative. Romney is not.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Every morning in drive time, popular conservative hosts Gary Sutton and Jim Horn of AM radio WSBA guide their listeners through a discussion of the day’s political news.

MAN: You know, we still have the vapor trail of all that going on, Jim, with the idea that Santorum was maybe the true conservative.

MAN: But there’s nobody there. So Romney is — the, you know, Romney becomes the ham sandwich vote.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some of the effort to convert conservatives to Romney is being directed by groups in Washington about two-and-a-half-hours south. A few anti-abortion organizations have moved quickly, now that Santorum has stepped aside, to endorse Romney.

Marjorie Dannenfelser heads the Susan B. Anthony List.

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER, Susan B. Anthony List: We have gotten to know him over the years since his conversion to the pro-life issue. And I will say, as a convert myself, it rings true and is authentic. More importantly, however, are the concrete commitments that he has made to be a president who on the federal level will be very active in implementing pro-life policies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Their numbers are hard to measure, but so-called social conservatives are a powerful force in the Republican Party, with strong views on abortion and gay rights in particular.

For example, this Vote 2012 Map Center shows evangelical Christians dominate parts of the Southeast. But they are a factor for the GOP across the country.

Back in Pennsylvania, at the Lancaster Bible College, which Santorum visited the day he left the race, we met with some young people who talk openly about trying to find a candidate to match their Christian values. None ruled out voting for Romney eventually. But, as of today, they’re looking at options from Ron Paul to President Obama.

JOEL KING, Lancaster Bible College: But right now, what I don’t see with Gov. Romney is enough distinctions on fiscal policy and on social policy between him and President Obama for me to feel totally comfortable coming in and giving him my support.

JESSE CORBIN, Lancaster Bible College: You know, Roe vs. Wade has been around 20 years. He didn’t see any reason to try to abolish it. But yet at this point now he is being backed by, you know, pro-life organizations. I’d like to know more what caused the change.

SHANNON MCNALLY, Lancaster Bible College: And I do agree with that. His morals, yes, they are good to some extent and I agree with some of them, but not all of them. You know, with him being a Mormon and stuff, it’s not necessarily what I agree with.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tuesday’s GOP primary is not on their radar screen, which public policy professor and pollster Terry Madonna of nearby Franklin and Marshall College insists should concern Romney, who he says needs a convincing win.

TERRY MADONNA, Franklin and Marshall College: What he does not want to leave Pennsylvania with is a four- or five-point victory over a candidate, Santorum, who has suspended his race, who has literally said, I’m out of the contest. He cannot afford, Romney cannot afford a narrow victory here. Imagine the headlines the next day: Romney barely wins.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is why the Romney campaign and the so-called super PAC supporting him, Restore Our Future, are still spending more than $2.6 million on TV ads in Pennsylvania.

MITT ROMNEY (R): The principles of business work in government, and it’s high time to bring those principles of fiscal responsibility to Washington, D.C.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Madonna says Romney’s immediate challenge is to win over social conservatives, many of whom were attracted to Santorum.

TERRY MADONNA: Santorum can go a long way if he assures that cohort of voters, evangelicals, born again, pro-lifers, that Romney’s conversion is genuine, that he’s one of them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This may happen later, but it hasn’t yet. At a Lancaster County Republican fund-raiser last week, Santorum canceled, and Romney stayed away from social issues before the mostly conservative audience.

MITT ROMNEY: We have two very different paths. The path that the president represents is trillion-dollar deficits every year, leading in my view to a Greece-like setting, where we face economic crisis. The path I represent is cutting federal spending, capping it as a percentage of our economy, and finally balancing our budget.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Textbook salesman Bill Coder said he didn’t need convincing.

BILL CODER, textbook salesman: He’s great on social issues. You know, a lot of people talk about, oh, he is a flip-flopper, he’s not somebody that can be trusted. But I look at it from the perspective of somebody becomes more conservative, I’m all for it. We need more of that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Former Lancaster County GOP chair Chet Beiler rejects the idea Romney isn’t conservative enough.

CHET BEILER, Former Lancaster County, Penn., Republican Party chair: Look deeply, you’ll see that he is one of the most conservatives — the most solid conservatives we have ever run for president, if you care about not only social issues, but also economic and business-related and fiscal policy. He’s so rock-solid.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Beiler’s wife, Sharon, had been a longtime Santorum backer, but the night of the dinner announced a change.

SHARON BEILER, Pennsylvania: But it has become obvious to me that we now need to make a choice between Obama and Romney. And so I will be a Romney supporter. Aren’t you glad?


CHET BEILER: I am. It’s very, very good, yes.

SHARON BEILER: My daughters are going to. . .

CHET BEILER: If we can win a conservative like her over, we can win any conservative over. So this is good.

SHARON BEILER: Duty calls. And we have a great nation and we want to keep it that way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A couple of the Tea Party members gathered at Lee Ann Burkholder’s say they know they will eventually come around to Romney, but not yet with much enthusiasm. Her husband, Scott Burkholder, is also on the Republican state committee.

SCOTT BURKHOLDER, Tea Party member: I think Mitt is a little squishy.


SCOTT BURKHOLDER: He’s kind of wishy-washy on a lot of things. He doesn’t like to upset the apple cart, and I don’t like that. I myself will work for Romney because I just — I don’t see an alternative to Obama. I mean, I just can’t fathom another four years of President Obama.

George Chaplin is also driven by opposition to the president, despite misgivings about Romney’s religion.

GEORGE CHAPLIN, Tea Party member: Now, I don’t particularly care of all the baggage that he may bring along with him. As far as I’m concerned, I am not too fond of a Mormon president. But sometimes you have to set those things aside.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Allison Blew says she’s prepared to go Romney if he chooses a truly conservative running mate.

ALLISON BLEW, Tea Party member: If Rick Santorum was the nominee, I would have gone out and hit the pavement, do signs, you know, the whole nine yards. For Romney, I will tell my friends. Most of them will vote for him anyway. You know, I just wouldn’t be as excited. But if he would pick a conservative as his vice president, like McCain picked Palin for his vice president, then that will go a long way amongst conservatives.

LEE ANN BURKHOLDER: I’m a conservative. I don’t consider myself a Republican. It’s just the party that I have to vote in to be at play in the primary. But I think that people who believe the way that we do are tired of voting for the lesser of two evils. And that’s how I see a vote for Romney. So he’s going to have to attract social conservatives to win in November.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Terry Madonna says Romney can attract them with an economy-related message.

TERRY MADONNA: I think the way to do that is to begin to talk much more about how fiscal issues relate to social conservatives, as well as other voters. Social conservatives care about jobs.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For now, Romney’s camp insists it is not worried about the most conservative voters, saying his views on growing business and reducing government spending will go a long way toward winning over people like Ms. Burkholder.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You can track the results of all five of tomorrow’s primaries online using our interactive Map Center.