Conservative fears Romney is "McCain all over again"

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney addresses a primary night victory rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, January 10, 2012.
Mitt Romney

On the eve of a Texas meeting of prominent social conservatives and evangelical Christians to discuss the state of the Republican presidential race, one invitee is worrying that a Mitt Romney nomination would be "John McCain all over again."

Dick Bott, founder and chairman of Christian Radio's Bott Radio Network, says he would vote for the former Massachusetts governor against President Obama, but that "people just won't care."

"Why on earth give other things [like volunteering time or donations] for someone you think is a bit of sham?" says Bott, who would not confirm he will be attending this weekend's summit. "All of a sudden there's a conservative movement that is being spoon-fed by Republican establishment leaders."

Bott made news last fall when The Daily Beast obtained emails between him and Rick Perry supporter David Lane which seemed sympathetic to controversial comments by a Baptist minister about Romney's Mormon faith.

"What would anyone think if a candidate were a Scientologist?" Bott reportedly wrote.

The meeting this weekend will be the third such gathering in the last five months. The first took place in August as Texas Gov. Rick Perry was deciding to enter the presidential race. According to the Texas Tribune, Perry told the assembled group, "there is nothing in my life that will embarrass you if you decide to support me for president." A source involved with the group said the same people gathered later in the fall in Washington, DC to hear from candidates Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann.

None of the Republican candidates are expected to attend this latest summit, which will begin tomorrow evening and run through Saturday lunch. Many of the attendees have already pledged themselves to a candidate, including some who support Romney. Multiple participants said they do not expect a consensus anti-Romney candidate to emerge from the two days of talks.

Retired judge Paul Pressler, who is hosting the event at his Texas ranch, said in an interview with CBS News Radio that the summit is not about finding a way to stop Romney.

"It's an anti-Obama meeting," he said. "It is not an anti-Romney meeting or anti-any other Republican meeting."

But even as the former Massachusetts governor has racked up caucus and primary wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, he has shown weakness among social conservatives and evangelical Christians: In Iowa, where 57 percent of Republican caucus-goers identified themselves in entrance polls as born again or evangelical Christians, Romney garnered 14 percent of their vote, compared to 32 percent for former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

Conservative opponents of Romney's candidacy point to what they see as his more moderate record as Massachusetts governor, including signing a health care law that contained an individual mandate and supporting abortion rights. Romney has said consistently in this campaign that he is now opposed to abortion rights.

Dick Bott worries about making Romney the standard-bearer of the Republican Party.

"I think he is a leader of a movement," Bott says. "But maybe he is more of a charlatan."

Despite the skepticism, Romney is leading in the polls in South Carolina, which holds the next presidential primary on Saturday, January 21st. In 2008, 60% of Republican primary voters in that state identified themselves as born again or evangelical Christians. His lead can be attributed in part to the fact that Santorum, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich are splitting the support of many of the voters who are skeptical of Romney.

Full CBS News coverage: Mitt Romney
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    Caroline Horn is CBS News' senior producer for politics.