Conservative Christian leaders have scaled back their goals for a meeting to be held in Texas on Friday and Saturday, acknowledging that they are unlikely to agree on a single alternative candidate to Mitt Romney until after the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21, if then.
Scores of politically influential evangelicals plan to attend the meeting, but the original dream of coalescing around one candidate of the religious right — Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum or Rick Perry — is unrealistic for now, several leaders said in interviews this week. If one of those candidates surges in South Carolina, or in the Florida primary on Jan. 31, pressure will grow on the others to step back, the leaders said.
“Any talk of winnowing out the field is premature until after South Carolina,” said Richard Land, the president of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. “The best thing that can happen for social conservatives is for one candidate to get a very clear mandate from South Carolina voters. If that happens, you might be able to get a consensus that makes a difference.”