Santorum benefits from evangelical surge, but born-again Iowans splinter

Des Moines, USA - Rick Santorum rode a largely evangelical wave of support to finish eight votes behind Mitt Romney in the Iowa Republican caucuses Tuesday night, according to CNN entrance polls, but the evangelical bloc nonetheless appeared to be seriously splintered.

Santorum garnered 34% of evangelical caucus-goers, according to entrance polls, the libertarian Ron Paul garnered 18%, while Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry each took 14% of that vote. Michele Bachmann won 6% of evangelical caucus-goers and Jon Huntsman won 1%.

The entrance poll reflects an evangelical consensus against Romney, who won a plurality of Iowa’s nonevangelical caucus-goers, but also showcases evangelical disagreement over the best alternative to the former Massachusetts governor, considered to be the establishment candidate and the national front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron, noted that Romney did worse among Iowa evangelicals on Tuesday night than he did as a presidential candidate four years ago, when he won 19% of evangelical Iowans.

Some evangelicals oppose Romney because of his Mormon faith, while others distrust him because of his past social liberalism on issues such as abortion, though Romney says he is now against abortion.

Ron Paul, also a candidate in 2008, roughly doubled his evangelical support from four years ago.

Some 58% of Iowa caucus-goers on Tuesday identified as evangelical, according to entrance polls, about as many as in 2008, when Huckabee was seen to have provoked a spike in evangelical turnout.

This year, the intense pursuit of evangelical votes by several candidates, especially Gingrich, Perry, Santorum and Bachmann, might have kept evangelical numbers up.

Tuesday night marked a departure from 2008, when one candidate – Mike Huckabee – won about half of the Iowa evangelical caucus-goers.

For Huckabee, though, evangelical support was as much hindrance as help, as the former Baptist preacher struggled to break out beyond evangelical voters for the rest of the GOP primaries.