In a Shaky GOP Field, What Are Value Voters Looking For?


In the hit movie “Field of Dreams,” farmer Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) sees his dad come back as a young baseball player on the baseball field he has built in a cornfield.

Kinsella’s dad John asks, “Is this heaven?” “It’s Iowa,” replies Ray. “Iowa? I could have sworn this is heaven. Is there a heaven?” John answers. “Oh yeah,” says Ray, “It’s the place where dreams come true.”

For most if not all GOP presidential candidates, Iowa is still the place where dreams can come true. But between now and January when Iowans caucus, lots of Iowa voters want to know what the GOP candidates really do think of heaven and about the God who promises an eternal life for everyone who believes in Him.

Iowans who consider a candidates faith and character an important factor in deciding who to vote for will be given an opportunity to learn more about the GOP field’s views at the Thanksgiving Family Forum in Des Moines this coming Saturday.

After helping then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich – armed with his Contract with America – take over Congress in 1994, conservative evangelical voters, also known as “value voters,” have played a vital role in past election cycles. Nowhere are they more prominent in a primary than in Iowa.

Those same voters helped elect George W. Bush in 2000. But they failed to show up en masse at the polls in 1996 when former Sen. Bob Dole was trying to unseat former President Bill Clinton, (who was in the midst of multiple scandals). This conservative base was again crucial in Bush's re-election in 2004.

Bob Vander Plaats is the president and CEO of The Family Leader, a pro-family organization in Iowa whose objective is to engage churches and equip pastors to address social issues from a biblical perspective. Their organization, along with CitizenLink and the National Organization for Marriage, are hosting the Saturday event at First Federated Church.

Vander Plaats believes that Iowans and value voters in general are looking at three specific criteria.

“First, I feel voters want to know what the core convictions of a candidate are,” Vander Plaats said. “They want to know where that candidate stands on life, marriage, character and learn a little about their personal integrity.”

“Second, they want to know what the candidates’ conservative, pro-family vision for American would be. In other words, where are they planning on taking our country in the next four years? And third, at the end of the day, do they believe they can defeat President Obama in 2012?” added Vander Plaats.

So far, six of the GOP candidates have confirmed their attendance. The lone candidate that had not confirmed was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. However on Tuesday, the group received word from the Romney camp saying that they were declining the group’s invitation and would not be participating.

“I believe Gov. Romney is missing a huge opportunity – one that could be catastrophic to his campaign,” said Vander Plaats. “If Romney loses Iowa by a significant margin, then regardless of how much time and money he’s spent in New Hampshire, it could make New Hampshire a toss-up.

“Just ask [Senator] John McCain if you doubt the importance of Iowa. I just think Romney absence sends the message that he doesn’t want to talk about our issues,” said Vander Plaats.

The Christian Post reported on Monday that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman had not responded to the groups invitation, however, Huntsman was not extended an invitation because he did not place in the top five of the Iowa poll nor has he consistently polled above five percent in national polls.

Gary Marx, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, whose group has played a role in educating pro-family voters, believes the majority of “values voters” are looking for the same traits as most every other voter.

“Value voters are no different from other voters. They want to know how our next president is going to create jobs and improve the economy,” said Marx. “Once those boxes are checked off, the next big question they have is will the GOP stand up and fight for pro-family issues.”

What is being billed as the “Thanksgiving Family Forum,” will take place on Saturday in Des Moines at First Federated Church from 4 to 6 p.m. CST. It will be broadcast live over the Internet, however, one network is considering carrying the event live.

The moderator will be nationally known pollster Frank Luntz. He will also hold a post-forum discussion with 25 Iowa moms that will be broadcast the following week on Fox News Network.

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