(Photo: Reuters/Joe Skipper)
With the Iowa caucuses just weeks away, most GOP presidential hopefuls are scrambling to woo the largely undecided evangelical Christian electorate. Former frontrunner Mitt Romney, however, seems to be the standout exception.
“I think Gov. Romney is sending a clear message that he doesn’t want to be around us – that he doesn’t need us and doesn’t want to be around us,” said Bob Vander Plaats, CEO of the conservative Iowa group, The Family Leader. “It’s apparent to me he’s unwilling to answer questions on core ‘value’ issues as seen in his interview with Fox News Bret Baier.”
The Family Leader hosted the Thanksgiving Family Forum in Des Moines last month, and all the major candidates attended except for Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, both of who are Mormon.
By comparison, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich met with a group of 63 Christian conservatives – at his request – earlier this week to make his case for their support. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum have also made similar appeals through various formats.
Perry has aired a popular and somewhat controversial faith-based ad, Santorum is spending most of his time in the Hawkeye state and Michele Bachmann has recently gained the support of evangelical heavyweight Phyllis Schlafly.
Richard Viguerie, one of the key players in organizing Gingrich’s meeting with Christian leaders, expressed his frustration with Romney by accusing the former governor of likely to not include prominent evangelical Christians in his administration if elected to the White House.
“Romney has made it clear to me that he doesn’t like Christian conservatives, would not include them in his administration,” Viguerie asserted. “He doesn’t understand why Christians are not supporting him in large numbers and I think that has rubbed him the wrong way.”
But the Romney campaign repudiated Viguerie’s claim.
“That is a ridiculous and false statement,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams told The Christian Post.
“Gov. Romney would look at people of all backgrounds who would be qualified to serve in his administration and in addition, Gov. Romney has a number of prominent Christians throughout the country who support him and that number is growing daily.”
In Florida, Romney has put together a strong group of Christian leaders to support his campaign, including state Sen. Anitere Flores.
“First of all, out of the leading candidates, Romney’s personal commitment to his faith and family has been evident in his actions as a husband and father,” said Flores in an email to CP. “Second, he is the only candidate to organize a Social Conservatives Coalition in Florida, naming prominent values voters and evangelical leaders to assist with GOTV efforts and policy formulation. Third, he has been firm in his commitment to the Defense of Marriage Act.”
But Bob Vander Plaats of The Family Leaders is not convinced.
“As my dad used to say, actions speak louder than words,” said Vander Plaats.
“About 80 percent of GOP Iowa caucus goers have decided that Romney isn’t the candidate for them,” he said. “The bigger issue is most of them still haven’t decided who they are going to support.”