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Candidates Focus On S.C. And Florida; Evangelical Leaders Gather In Texas

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum campaigns Friday in Rock Hill, S.C.
Mark Wilson
Getty Images
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum campaigns Friday in Rock Hill, S.C.

In Texas today, conservative Christian and evangelical leaders begin two days of meetings to discuss political strategy, and perhaps to coalesce around a Republican presidential candidate other than front-runner Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports on the search for a so-called Jesus candidate and the evolving influence of Christian right leaders in the Republican Party.

While the gathering at a private ranch near Houston may include as many as 150 pastors and others, NPR's Liz Halloran introduces the handful of evangelical leaders who might have the greatest sway.

But most of the real campaigning today remains in South Carolina, which holds the nation's next primary a week from Saturday.

While emerging as an alternative to Romney remains the goal for all of the other candidates, NPR's Debbie Elliott is reporting that concerns about infighting in the GOP — specifically attacks on Romney's former business career — could be softening.

On the campaign trail today, Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman have events scheduled in South Carolina.

Gingrich had morning events scheduled in Florida — which follows South Carolina with a Jan. 31 primary — before returning to South Carolina to attend an evening candidate forum and barbecue in Spartanburg County, along with Santorum and Huntsman.

And on Saturday, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — an ordained Baptist minister, 2008 presidential candidate and now Fox News talk show host — is scheduled to hold a town hall-style forum at the College of Charleston. All of the candidates except for Texas Rep. Ron Paul are expected to attend.

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Greg Henderson