The Family Leader is one of the most closely watched evangelical groups in Iowa but the GOP presidential candidates will find out on Monday just how closely the group is listened to when they announce if or whom they will endorse for president.
It’s a bit easier to determine who they are not going to crown with an endorsement given the number one criteria for the group was a candidate’s signature on their 14-point marriage pledge.
Those who have refused to sign the pledge include former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.
Others, such as former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson have also declined to sign the pledge. However, Johnson has not participated in any of the major debates and is not considered a serious candidate.
Those who are under consideration include Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, all of whom have signed the group’s pledge and have hence vowed to defend traditional marriage.
That leaves front-runner and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who according to The Family Leader spokesperson Julie Summa, is one of four candidates the group is considering for an endorsement.
Yet the issue that remains somewhat cloudy is does the written statement provided by Speaker Gingrich put him on the same level as the three other candidates who have signed the actual pledge?
“That’s really a question that only the board can answer,” said Summa.
Bob Vander Plaats, executive director of The Family Leader, provided a bit more insight into the issue.
“That’s going to be a great question, because if you read the pledge that he (Gingrich) wrote and submitted, there’s a lot of our verbiage in there. He takes some strong stances on life, marriage and religious freedom. As we read it, we wondered why he didn’t sign the pledge, but he did almost everything we talked about and used similar language.”
Another question many pundits are asking is how much will the group’s endorsement actually help one of the four candidates who made the final cut.
That depends on whom you ask.
Polls have shown that approximately 37 percent of GOP Iowa caucus goers identify themselves as “evangelical” conservatives. The Family Leader endorsement would most likely influence a substantial percentage of evangelical voters.
However, others are not so sure. “If The Family Leader board endorses Newt Gingrich it will come back to haunt them,” said an Iowa elected official who wanted to speak anonymously. “They tout family values and they need to practice what they preach.”
All four of the candidates who are under consideration will speak at a premiere of “The Gift of Life,” hosted by former Arkansas Gov. and now Fox News host Mike Huckabee on Wednesday night. A Republican debate that will include all the GOP candidates will be held on Thursday night.