URBANDALE — The influential Family Leader social conservative group in Iowa announced today it will not make an endorsement in the GOP presidential race just ahead of thousands of Iowa Republicans participating in the state’s first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses next month.
However, Bob Vander Plaats, president and chief executive officer of the Iowa Family Leader, and Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, announced they were backing former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum separate from the Pleasant Hill-based group.
The Family Leader executive board’s decision to remain neutral in the 2012 GOP presidential race is significant because its members come from a range of social and evangelical conservatives who will shape the outcome of Iowa’s Jan. 3 lead-off caucuses similarly to the way they delivered
an upset victory for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee four years ago.
However, Vander Plaats, who helped lead Huckabee’s Iowa campaign in 2008, said he expected to bring whatever support he can to bear
individually as Republicans make their caucus choices in the next two weeks.
“I am truly honored to receive the Bob and Chuck’s endorsement today,” Santorum said in a statement. “I’ve had the great pleasure
of getting to know them over the past several years. In fact, we campaigned together throughout 2010 as they successfully worked to throw out activist judges who redefined marriage in the Hawkeye State.
“Their reach and influence covers all corners of Iowa, and I know they did not take this endorsement lightly,” Santorum added. “This means so much more to our campaign. If their work on behalf of Gov. Huckabee four years ago is any indication, I have no doubt they will be a terrific catalyst for our campaign as we continue building momentum in Iowa. Now is the time for conservatives to unite so we can defeat Barack Obama.”
Officials of The Family Leader announced last month that they had narrowed their list of candidates up for consideration to Santorum, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, former and House Speaker Newt Gingrich. However, they acknowledged that the decision to settle on which candidate to support was difficult.
The Family Leader held a candidates’ forum last month that drew 3,000 people to a Des Moines church and previously sponsored a speaking
tour for Republicans vying for the party’s 2012 presidential nomination and the right to face Democrat Barack Obama in next year’s general election.
Last month, Family Leader officials said they had ruled out candidates U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Georgia businessman Herman Cain —
who since has suspended his campaign — in their consideration of an endorsement. The group also indicated it did not even consider former
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose past positions on abortion and gay marriage have been liabilities for him with social conservatives in Iowa.
Troy Price, executive director of One Iowa, the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy group, said Vander
Plaats announcement to offer an individual endorsement came as no surprise.
“Both Santorum and Vander Plaats have all built their careers attacking loving and committed gay and lesbian couples and the fact is
that Vander Plaats caved to the extreme social conservative agenda,” Price said in a prepared statement.
“With poll numbers lagging, it is clear Rick Santorum does not have a chance against President Obama in November, and Vander Plaats has
endorsed a losing candidate,” he added. “Today’s announcement proves what we have known all along: Bob Vander Plaats is out of touch with what voters want. What Iowans care about are jobs and the economy, and they deserve a candidate who does too.”
Three Iowa pastors — Matt Floyd, Bill Tvedt and Brad Cranston — and faith leader Tamara Scott, who support Bachmann’s candidacy, issued a joint statement praising the Family Leader’s decision to remain neutral in the GOP race.
“Michele Bachmann is a biblically qualified, capable, no-compromise leader who is the only truly consistent conservative in the race. When the Family Leader presented its pledge to candidates, Michele Bachmann didn’t hesitate. She was the first to step forward, sign the pledge and stand
shoulder to shoulder with the Family Leader. She endured relentless criticism from liberals as a result, but she never wavered from doing what she knew was right,” they said in their joint statement.
“The defense of marriage has been the highest priority of Bob Vander Plaats and the Family Leader, and Michele Bachmann has been a bold
leader at both the state level and in Washington, D.C. She has met every criterion that the Family Leader has established. Iowans of faith know that Michele Bachmann, more than any other candidate in the race, can be counted on to defend and encourage the traditional, Christian values that made our country the greatest nation on Earth. She remains completely deserving of the Family Leader’s full endorsement,” they added.