By Paul Steinhauser, CNN Political Editor
Washington (CNN) – Two leading national anti-abortion organizations Thursday endorsed Republican Mitt Romney for president.
In backing the former Massachusetts governor and all but certain GOP presidential nominee, both National Right to Life and the Susan B. Anthony List highlighted what they called Romney’s strong “pro-life” positions and criticized President Barack Obama for what they call a “pro-abortion agenda.”
“On pro-life issues, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama provide a stark contrast. As the country’s most pro-abortion president, Barack Obama has pursued a radical pro-abortion agenda,” said National Right to Life President Carol Tobias. “It is now time for pro-life Americans to unite behind Mitt Romney. For the sake of unborn children, the disabled, and the elderly, we must win.”
The National Right to Life Committee is the nation’s oldest and largest anti-abortion organization, with affiliates in all 50 states and over 3,000 local chapters.
The official backing from both groups comes two days after Rick Santorum suspended his bid for the GOP presidential nomination. In a statement Tuesday, the SBA List praised the former senator from Pennsylvania, who enjoyed strong backing from social conservative voters, but the statement didn’t mention Romney.
The group’s board of directors Wednesday night voted unanimously to endorse Romney and says they’ll spend up to $12 million to try and energize social conservative voters in battleground states.
“Now is the time to unite behind Governor Romney in order to defeat the most ideologically pro-abortion president in our nation’s history,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser,” in a statement Thursday. “The SBA List is proud to endorse Governor Romney and plans to spend $10 to $12 million in senate and presidential battleground states mobilizing pro-life voters to ensure victory.”
In their statement, the group highlighted Romney’s pledge to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood and his support for legislation “to ban abortions based on fetal pain, and appoint only constitutionalist judges to the federal bench.”
They also mentioned Romney’s commitment to select a “pro-life” running mate.
“The difference between Governor Romney and President Obama couldn’t be clearer, which is why our Board of Directors voted unanimously to get behind him,” said Jane Abraham, Chairman of the SBA List Board of Directors. “It is the responsibility of all pro-life voters to now unite behind Governor Romney. Together we can put a pro-life leader in the White House.”
The SBA List touts itself as a nationwide network of more than 365,000 members dedicated to “mobilizing, advancing, and representing pro-life women in politics.”
The backing of Romney by SBA List and National Right to Life comes one day after another social conservative group, the National Organization for Marriage, endorsed the former Massachusetts governor, who’s making his second bid for the White House.
The SBA List’s endorsement was first reported by Politico.
Exit polls indicate that Romney struggled courting social conservative voters, who are a crucial part of the GOP base, during the primaries and caucuses. Such voters were the backbone of Santorum’s campaign. They flocked to him for his longtime stance against abortion rights and same-sex marriage, and for his personal story of being a devout Catholic who home-schooled his seven children.
Thanks to their support, the former senator from Pennsylvania went from a long shot last year to the top of the pack amongst the Republican contenders in February. According to exit polls, Santorum won in states where self-described born-again Christians made up a majority of the GOP primary electorate.
With Santorum gone, the big question is whether social conservatives will now support Romney — or if they’ll sit out the presidential election come November and concentrate their efforts down ballot in the Senate and House races.
In an interview with CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council Action, another leading social conservative group, said that conservative activists are so unenthusiastic about Romney that many are likely to turn their grassroots efforts away from the presidential race and towards Congress — specifically putting the Senate in Republican hands.
“It’s difficult for us to back a candidate our constituents don’t believe in and aren’t excited about,” Perkins said in a telephone interview Tuesday, speaking about Romney.
Perkins also told Bash that the consensus was to turn their “emphasis” to campaigns for Congress rather than campaign for Romney.
And Steve Scheffler, a longtime social conservative activist in the battleground state of Iowa, tells Bash that Romney turned down invitations to two presidential forums last year put on by Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, the group Scheffler heads.
Scheffler said Romney has done “absolutely nothing” to reach out to the base, which he called a huge mistake. “I don’t think the Romney campaign has any room for error” in the general election.
Evangelical activist Michael Farris was not exactly surprised that Rick Santorum suspended his campaign on Tuesday. But that doesn’t mean that Farris, a longtime political organizer, knows what he’s supposed to do now.
“Right now my choice is to sit on my hands and do nothing or to actively try to find some alternative” to Mitt Romney, Farris told CNN.com Religion Editor Dan Gilgoff, soon after Santorum’s announcement.
“Some of us just have a hard time supporting a person who said he was going to be more liberal on gay rights than Ted Kennedy,” said Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, referring to remarks Romney made in a 1994 letter, during his unsuccessful Senate bid to try and unseat Kennedy.
Gilgoff says that Farris’ reaction is “a stark emblem of the disappointment among religious conservatives over Santorum’s announcement, and a reminder that Romney’s enthusiasm deficit among the conservative evangelicals who form the GOP’s base hasn’t gone away.”
But in an editorial board meeting with CNN, Southern Baptist Convention leader Richard Land had a different perspective.
“I think that Romney will get the support of most social conservatives and the enthusiastic support of most of them unless he drives them away – unless he picks a non-social conservative running mate, he doesn’t talk about our issues or gives any indication he’s going to soft pedal our issues when it comes to places of influence in a Romney administration,” said Land.
And CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein says that in the end, social conservatives will close ranks around Romney.
“Mitt Romney will do fine among evangelical Christian voters who are very conservative on social and role of government issues, and he will probably win over 90% of Republican voters in the end mostly because whatever they think about Romney, they know they don’t want Barack Obama in the White House for another term.”
“This is now a team sport. Everyone knows what team they are on, and the vast majority support their team,” adds Brownstein, editorial director at National Journal.