Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney decided Tuesday to sidestep a key meeting of GOP candidates with Christian value voters in Iowa, setting off speculation on whether Romney plans to avoid Christian venues in his run for the presidency.
The Romney campaign on Tuesday afternoon informed The Family Leader – one of the three groups hosting the Thanksgiving Family Forum in Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday – that he would not be joining six other GOP candidates for a roundtable discussion.
The forum will be held at First Federated Church in Des Moines and is billed as an opportunity for the candidates to discuss the importance of faith in their lives and what role that faith will play in how they will lead American if elected president.
“I believe Gov. Romney is missing a huge opportunity – one that could be catastrophic to his campaign,” said Bob Vander Plaats, president of The Family Leader, one of the organizers of the forum, to The Christian Post.
“If Romney loses Iowa by a significant margin, then regardless of how much time and money he’s spent in New Hampshire so far, it could make New Hampshire a toss-up. Just ask [Senator] John McCain if you doubt the importance of Iowa,” added Vander Plaats. “I just think Romney absence sends the message that he doesn’t want to talk about our issues.”
The Christian Post attempted to contact the Romney campaign about their decision to decline to participate in the forum, however, a reply was not received prior to publication.
Romney has consistently maintained poll numbers in the high teens to low twenty percentile, but he has failed to grab a commanding lead, even as his opponents, some with strong support in the faith community, have stumbled or fallen out of favor with Republican voters.
The six GOP candidates that will be appearing at the forum are Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Atlanta businessman German Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minnesota) Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was not invited because he did not place in the top five in the Iowa straw poll nor has he consistently polled above five percent in national polls.
To many of Iowa’s values voters, Romney’s decision not to attend could send a message that he isn’t willing to participate in a discussion that will focus on pro-family issues such as biblical marriage and abortion – two issues that Romney waivered on during his tenure as Massachusetts governor.
With the exception of Santorum and Huntsman, nearly every other candidate, including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, has challenged Romney for the frontrunner position in most major polls. None of the contenders have been able to sustain support. Now, former Speaker Newt Gingrich is moving up in some recent polls.