After a long and acrimonious standoff, conservative and evangelical leaders are embracing GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in hopes that their endorsement of his campaign will spark followers to get on board their effort to push President Obama out of the White House.
"Yes it's coming together but I will tell you what's driving it together, Barack Obama," said Tony Perkins, president of the influential Family Research Council. In an interview with Secrets, he added, "there's a growing level of comfort" with Romney.
Over the past month, several Romney surrogates have been wooing conservative and evangelical leaders who are distrustful of the the former Massachusetts chief executive who they say governed like a moderate. Many remain skeptical of Romney, but said they would rather fight with him as president than be under attack by Obama, especially after Thursday's Obamacare decision in the Supreme Court.
Conservative leaders said that the key to their enthusiastic support will be Romney's vice presidential pick. Several said that the campaign has promised to name a pro-life conservative with deep roots in the movement.
Perkins said it will be important for Romney to pick a running mate who has "some experience" in the pro-life movement, not just somebody who just says that they are pro-life.
"One of the most critical decisions they are going to make is who he picks as his running mate. Is it somebody that conservatives can identify with and feel like they have the ability to communicate with and by that I mean somebody who understands them? There is a real sense inside the Romney campaign and those around him that they don't understand conservatives because there are really none there," said Perkins.
"What people are looking for is someone who has a portfolio of conservative leadership, not somebody who just may have voted right or who made speeches about being pro-life, but somebody who actually has evidence to back it up," he said
"What I have heard" about the likely pick, he said, is `it will be a pro-life conservative."
He suggested four candidates that would meet the expanded portfolio standard: Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. He gave a nod also to Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, calling him "ok."
Still, Perkins and others say that they aren't enthusiastic for Romney yet. "There are many questions over Mitt Romney," he said, adding that he is "cautiously optimistic" the Republican will govern conservatively.
"Probably 15 minutes after the inauguration, I'm going to have issues with something he's done. But I'd rather have issues with him then the type of issues I'm having now with Barack Obama."
Other conservative leaders told Secrets that the campaign erred picking former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt to head his transition team, noting that he is a moderate who backed Obamacare. But a Romney advisor said that Leavitt is a brilliant organizer who is also a close Romney friend. "Listen, there are going to be some people conservatives might not fully embrace now, but we have to get the White House. Then we can fight."