Endorsement Bad News for Gingrich

I speculated earlier today that an endorsement from the influential Iowa social conservative group The Family Leader could be Newt Ginrich’s saving grace in the state. But unfortunately for Gingrich, he had no such luck. The Family Leader announced today that it’s staying neutral in the race, but the group’s prominent leaders, Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley, declared their support for Rick Santorum:

Iowa social conservative leaders Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley backed Rick Santorum for president Tuesday, giving the Pennsylvania senator’s tortoise-like campaign a nice boost in the run-up to the caucuses.

This is all the more devastating for Gingrich because Vander Plaats had reportedly been leaning toward endorsing him. By supporting Santorum instead, Vander Plaats is basically acknowledging that it would be too controversial within the evangelical movement for him to publicly back Gingrich.

The endorsement is also something of a rebuke to Rick Perry, who has recently been playing up his social conservative credentials in Iowa with a spate of culture-warrior-themed TV ads.

As for Santorum, the endorsement could be the spark he needs to catch fire in the state and fill the “not-Romney” void left by Gingrich’s ongoing downfall. Voters are hungry for someone to replace Gingrich — only 35 percent of Iowa voters have settled on a candidate, according to the latest CNN poll — and with the caucuses just two weeks away, the timing couldn’t be better for Santorum.