Mitt Romney could ease the concerns of conservative religious leaders who backed his rivals in the Republican primaries by selecting a strong social conservative to be his running mate, says Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
"I think Mitt Romney is going to need help," Perkins told Yahoo News in an interview, noting that Romney's commencement address at Liberty University was a positive step. "He's going to have to make it a focal point of his campaign that he's connected with social conservatives....The best way for him to do that it with a VP pick that they can identify with."
During the Republican primaries, Perkins joined a group of influential social conservatives, including Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Gary Bauer of American Values, in endorsing Rick Santorum over Romney. Even though Mitt Romney has effectively captured the Republican nomination, Perkins suggested that misgivings remain.
"You look at Mitt Romney, his record as governor's not that good," Perkins said, referring to Romney's interest in social issues during his single term as governor of Massachusetts. "His stated positions are much better. But he's not comfortable--we're seeing even in this cycle--being out front on those issues." Perkins added, "Having a running mate to [whom] social conservatives can feel like they have a connection...would be very positive."
During an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday, Perkins said he hoped Romney would choose former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal as his running mate. Perkins, who was a Louisiana state representative from 1996-2004, emphasized their executive experience and ability to excite Republicans who vote on social issues.
On Jindal specifically, Perkins pointed to the governor's work on school choice initiatives in Louisiana, his coordination with churches for disaster relief during hurricanes, and the fact that his age--Jindal turns 41 next month--could help Romney connect with younger voters.
But despite Romney's perceived shortcomings, Perkins said there is still time for him to rally social conservatives within the party.
"He has to continue reaching out to all elements of the Republican Party--defense conservatives, social conservatives, as well as financial, which he's got covered," Perkins said. "A [vice president] can clearly help him cover all those bases."
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