MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – It was a must stop for all the five remaining Republican presidential candidates Monday: the huge white tent pitched amid the pines by the Faith & Freedom Coalition, an organization of evangelical Christian conservatives.
“Whoa, look at this,” Romney said when he came out on stage in a blazer and skinny jeans. “This is an old-fashioned tent revival.”
Romney, whose Mormon religion has spurred skepticism among some conservative Christians, did not discuss his faith or invoke God, unlike many of the other speakers at the afternoon rally – but he did get a rousing reception as he attacked President Obama for seeking to make the U.S. a “secular nation.” Romney vowed to stop what he called the administration’s push for same-sex marriage, and pledged his continuing opposition to abortion rights.
“South Carolina loves you!!” a man yelled as Romney took the stage, an unusually enthusiastic greeting for the low-key candidate. “I love South Carolina!” Romney responded.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a noted leader of the fight to restrict access to abortion and to stop gay marriage, told the crowd of about 500 in the tent and watching the festivities outside on a giant TV screen that he is the best messenger for their causes.
“I’m the point man,” Santorum said. “I’ve gone out and taken on the tough issues. When you stick your head out of the foxhole on these issues, you get shot at. I’ve been shot at a lot in my career when it comes to the issues of faith and family.
Gingrich said he was the strongest conservative alternative to Romney remaining.
“Unless a conservative wins Saturday, we’re going to wind up with a moderate nominee who will have a very difficult time defeating Barack Obama,” Gingrich said. “You need a candidate who is far enough to the right so that all the attacks fall into the empty space in between,” Gingrich said.
He added that the GOP needs as a nominee “somebody who has believed what they believe for more than three or four years and not be confused.” This was a reference to Romney’s changing from a supporter of abortion rights to an opponent as he expanded his national profile. Romney also including funding for abortion in his state’s health-care program as governor of Massachusetts.
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas discussed his faith in Christ and accused Democrats of seeking to “whitewash from the public square of all religious references.”