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Mitt Romney’s Tough Job: Wooing Conservatives

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo

“There is a lot at stake in November for our nation,” Ryan said in the statement. “We can do better than Barack Obama. But not only the presidency is at stake. We also have the opportunity to strengthen the conservative majority in the House of Representatives and to oust the liberal leadership in the Senate.”

Other conservative organizers who had backed Santorum with ads and organizing help were noncommittal today. Responding via e-mail, Eagle Forum executive director Colleen Holmes said the group “will certainly support whomever the Republican nominee is, although we don’t have specific plans just yet.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement that Santorum had “reached the hearts of pro-life voters and allowed them to show the strength of their voting bloc,” but she made no mention of Romney. The group spent more than $500,000 on a pro-Santorum campaign that included radio ads, voter mobilization and a multi-state bus tour.

There are signs that conservative leaders will eventually support Romney as the nominee. Conservative activist Gary Bauer, whose Campaign for Working Families had backed Santorum, “will work to defeat Barack Obama,” said his spokeswoman, Kristi Hamrick. “That’s what Gary will do.”

But Romney, who has struggled to deliver a consistent message on such issues as abortion and health care, is just at the beginning of a potentially awkward courtship.

“Everyone’s got to get comfortable,” Burch said. “Conservatives have learned that we can’t simply trust rhetoric. We almost have to take a measure of a man’s heart and his soul, not just his words. And that’s not something you just decide on a whim.”

Viguerie was more blunt.

“The next step is up to Mitt Romney,” his statement concluded. “Romney is seriously behind with committed conservative voters. To catch up, he must make the case that he merits the support of movement conservatives and that a Romney administration, if elected, can and will produce conservative government.”

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