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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

Santorum picks up support from a key Iowa conservative

Bob Vander Plaats, a former gubernatorial candidate and president of the Iowa Family Leader group, called Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum (above) a “champion for the family.’’

Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Bob Vander Plaats, a former gubernatorial candidate and president of the Iowa Family Leader group, called Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum (above) a “champion for the family.’’

An influential religious and social conservative from Iowa yesterday endorsed former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, a blow to former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been courting such voters.

Bob Vander Plaats, a former gubernatorial candidate and president of the Iowa Family Leader group, called Santorum a “champion for the family.’’

However, the Family Leader group itself will remain neutral.

Vander Plaats was active in an effort to remove Iowa judges who legalized same-sex marriage in the state - an issue Gingrich has mentioned in his campaign recently, as he promises to overhaul the judiciary.

Santorum was active in the effort to remove the Iowa judges and has sponsored several bills to restrict abortions. He has made social issues a centerpiece of his campaign.

“He has been a stalwart and a soldier for the sanctity of human life,’’ Vander Plaats said, according to a video of the speech.

Santorum also earned the endorsement of Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, the education division of Family Leader.

Vander Plaats led the 2008 Iowa presidential campaign of Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister who won the Iowa caucuses.

“Their reach and influence covers all corners of Iowa, and I know they did not take this endorsement lightly,’’ Santorum said of Vander Plaats and Hurley. “If their work on behalf of Governor Huckabee four years ago is any indication, I have no doubt they will be a terrific catalyst for our campaign as we continue building momentum in Iowa.’’

A group of fundamentalist faith leaders in Iowa said they believe the group should have endorsed Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

“Michele Bachmann is a biblically qualified, capable, no-compromise leader who is the only truly consistent conservative in the race,’’ wrote pastors Matt Floyd, Bill Tvedt, and Brad Cranston, and faith leader Tamara Scott, in a statement distributed by the Bachmann campaign. “She remains completely deserving of the Family Leader’s full endorsement.’’

Meanwhile, Gingrich rolled out the endorsement of the Rev. Donald Wildmon, founder and chairman of the socially conservative American Family Association and American Family Radio. - SHIRA SCHOENBERG

Gingrich blasts Romney over ads by super PAC

OTTUMWA, Iowa - Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich lashed out at Mitt Romney yesterday, accusing his chief rival of a “negative smear campaign’’ fueled by a political action committee with close ties to the former Massachusetts governor.

“Understand, these are his people running his ads, doing his dirty work while he pretends to be above it,’’ Gingrich said after a campaign appearance in Ottumwa. “I don’t object to being outspent. I object to lies. I object to negative smear campaigns.’’

Gingrich has pledged to remain “relentlessly positive’’ as he seeks the GOP nomination. He said yesterday that he was not violating that promise but simply correcting the record.

Earlier yesterday, Romney said in an appearance on MSNBC that super PACs have been “a disaster.’’ But he refused to urge the group Restore Our Future to halt the attacks on Gingrich, saying that the law prohibits his campaign and such groups to coordinate.

Gingrich read Romney’s remarks to reporters and labeled them “baloney.’’ He again urged Romney to demand that the negative spots be taken down.

Gingrich said Restore Our Future was created by Romney’s former staff and funded by “his personal friends.’’

Gingrich’s own former top aide, Rick Tyler, has joined a pro-Gingrich PAC called Winning Our Future. Gingrich said he would expect the PAC to adhere to his positive strategy.

“If Rick Tyler runs a single negative ad, I will disown the PAC and discourage anyone from giving them a penny,’’ he said.

“Now the governor had a very easy way to do the same thing and for him to say he couldn’t find the people who gave that money and he couldn’t get them to put pressure on the PAC to be reasonable is just purely dishonest,’’ Gingrich said.

Gingrich has slid in polls as a barrage of ads attacking him blankets the Iowa airwaves in advance of the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses Jan. 3. - ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ex-governor drops GOP bid, seeks Libertarian backing

EXETER, N.H. - The former governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, is dropping his Republican presidential bid so he can run for the Libertarian Party nomination.

Johnson plans to announce his candidacy for the Libertarian nomination next week. He has struggled to get any traction in the GOP race for the White House and has been excluded from all but two presidential debates.

A spokesman for Johnson, Joe Hunter, said last night that Johnson is frustrated because his viewpoint has not been heard.

Johnson’s plans were first reported by Politico. - ASSOCIATED PRESS

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