DES MOINES – The polls, the pundits, and the candidates themselves have told Iowa’s social conservatives that the top issue in the 2012 election is the economy.
Saturday night in an exhibit hall on the Iowa State Fairgrounds about 1,000 social conservatives turned out to convince a half-dozen presidential hopefuls that they need to pay more attention to abortion, gay marriage and illegal immigration if they want to lock up the activist and evangelical vote this year.
“I can tell you that 90 percent of the workers, the worker bees, are people that are like the people in this room,” said Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, which hosted the event. “The old, left-of-center country club Republicans, they’re not going to lift a finger. It’s the people in this room that are going to work.”
The chance to pull these activists and those like them into their campaigns convinced Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum to spend part of their Saturday night in Des Moines talking up their conservative credentials over a meal of fried chicken and fruit punch.
Bachmann, Perry and, most recently Cain, have enjoyed at least some time at the top of the Republican presidential polls. But it has been former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney who has consistently polled near or at the top no matter however the other names placed.
“I think the fact that Mitt Romney is not here – we’ve bent over backwards to get him here – is a sad thing,” Scheffler said.
The ones that did show up, however, certainly made the most of their time with the crowd. Bachmann and Paul quoted the Old Testament. Perry spoke about his becoming a born-again Christian while Santorum nearly came to tears sharing the story of one of his sons who died after being out of the womb for two hours. Gingrich spent much of his speech talking about getting rid of “activist judges” and Cain, who recently came under fire for his comments regarding abortion on CNN, said abortion should be outlawed.
Outlawing abortion proved to be a popular position among the candidates, either through an outright ban, through a constitutional amendment or, in the case of Ron Paul, pushing the issue back to the states.
Talk of ramping down government spending and lowering taxes played well with the crowd, as could be expected, but so did the dismantling of entire government agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency was a common target, as were the Department of Energy, the Department of Education and the Federal Reserve.
If anyone knocked it out of the park Saturday, it would be hard to tell by the reaction from the crowd which gave standing ovations to each of the candidates as they exited the stage.
After all, though the attendees of the Faith & Freedom Coalition dinner could all be social conservatives, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily moved to the same extent by the same issues.
“I love this sweater because it stands for something,” said Don Charleston, a retiree from Altoona, who stood out in a crowd of sports jackets and ties because of his knit United States Flag sweater.
“It stands for integrity and values,” he said. “That’s what I’m looking for most in a president. That’s what I want to see more of.”
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