(Photo: Reuters/Brian C. Frank)
Six of the GOP presidential candidates competed for the votes of conservative Christians Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa, claiming to be more Christian and more conservative than their opponents. However, there was not a clear winner at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition as conservative Christians still appear to be divided over who they will support in the primaries this January.
About 1,000 people attended the dinner event.
Evangelical voters are not only the backbone of the GOP constituency in general, but especially in Iowa. In the 2008 campaign season, it was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s support among evangelical voters nationwide and in Iowa that propelled him to the forefront with victories in the GOP caucuses. This time around, however, there has not been any one single candidate that has exclusively caught the voting bloc’s eye.
Most noticeably absent from the Christian-organized event was Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. While Romney is considered the GOP frontrunner, he has had a difficult time galvanizing the Christian base, partly because many Christians do not consider his Mormon faith to be one of true Christianity. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, also a Mormon, was absent as well.
The theme of the night was which candidate would do the most to make abortion and homosexual marriage illegal. All of the candidates framed the 2012 election as do-or-die time.
“The Founding Fathers got it right. We have to be the Defending Fathers,” businessman Herman Cain said according to The Washington Post.
“We’ve got to get it right in 2012, and I believe that we will, because we’re reminded that while we are on this journey, we all have just a limited amount of time to be here, and we have to decide how we’re going to use our time, our talents and our treasure in order to make a difference.”
Cain’s main objective Saturday evening was to clarify his confusing abortion remarks he made earlier in the week when he had implied that abortion should be left to the family to decide. This remark had many conservative Christians upset and Cain sought to backtrack.
"I believe abortion should be clearly stated as illegal across this country," Cain said according to The Associated Press. Just in case anyone was still confused on where he stood, Cain rephrased his stance saying that he was pro-life from a baby’s conception, “no abortions, no exceptions.”
The other candidates, however, did not let Cain off the hook. Pot shots were made at the businessman whose earlier remarks made him appear liberal and then wishy-washy when he tried to back track. Romney also got jabbed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry who used the forum to challenge Romney on his flip-flop on social issues.
"Pro-life is not a matter of campaign convenience," said Perry, according to AP. Romney has been accused of shifting his positions to satisfy the Republican voting base.
The most emotionally gripping abortion argument came from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, according to The Los Angeles Times. He described the birth of his son Gabriel, whose birth they were advised to terminate prematurely because a sonogram detected physical problems. Gabriel was born but only lived for two hours.
All candidates, most noticeably Congresswoman Michele Bachman and Perry, laced their speeches with biblical references. Perry reminded the crowd that no one is perfect in God’s eyes and told the audience:
"If any of you have watched my debate performance over the last three or four times, you know that I am far from perfect," according to the LA Times.
Perry was considered the frontrunner when he first entered the race two months ago, however, dismal debate ratings are considered the main culprit for his recent fall in polls.
All candidates are touting the message that this time the country needs a drastic change from the current administration. Perry is known for saying that the country needs bold colors, not pastels. Romney, according to Perry, is a pastel color very similar to the current president in the White House.
Bachmann reminded the audience that the momentum is on the side of the Republicans for the 2012 election.
"This is our year, when we don't have to compromise. This is our year, when we don't settle," she said according to the LA Times.
The candidates that spoke at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition event Saturday were: Bachmann, Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, Perry, and Santorum.