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In Iowa, 'Social Issues' Emphasis Could Limit GOP Presidential Field -- and Focus

3 years ago
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DES MOINES, Iowa – For Republicans with White House dreams, Iowa is the Rubik's cube of primary states. Should they tack right to win over the state's influential bloc of social conservatives? Should they be true to themselves, even if that could backfire? Should they throw up their hands and launch instead in New Hampshire or South Carolina? And if they do that, will Iowa be lost to them in a general election?

Several White House prospects are grappling right now with those questions as the Iowa calendar fills up with events designed as platforms for values issues. Many will participate March 26 in Rep. Steve King's "Conservative Principles Conference," and last month they began showing up one by one as part of a "presidential lecture series" sponsored by a socially conservative group called The Family Leader.

The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition forum this week in Waukee provided an intensive sample of what's ahead. God, socialism, abortion and gay marriage were recurring themes in remarks from five White House aspirants and other speakers as well. Jobs? Mostly MIA. Nor was there much focus on federal spending, a top issue for some in the audience of 2,000.

The gathering was hardly a microcosm of the country. Jobs and the economy dwarf other concerns in one national poll after another. In one recent CBS-New York Times poll, 48 percent named jobs and the economy as their top priority while the budget deficit and national debt were in second place -- at 7 percent. Americans now are evenly divided on same-sex marriage, with support on the verge of overtaking opposition. A 54 percent majority say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, versus 42 percent who say illegal in all or most cases.

The forum was not even a microcosm of Iowa. The latest Iowa Poll by the Des Moines Register found that views on gay marriage are a rough three-way split among oppose, support and don't care. The state is also split on the ouster last fall of three state Supreme Court justices who ruled it constitutional in Iowa -- an election result that came up often at the Waukee forum. As for the economy, Iowa has a 6.3 percent jobless rate -- quite low compared to the national rate of 8.9 percent. Yet nearly nine in 10 in the Iowa Poll said they are still feeling the effects of the recession or seeing it affect others. Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, defeated Democratic governor Chet Culver last fall in part by promising to create 200,000 jobs.

Still, religious conservatives are a political force that can't be ignored. In an Iowa poll just before the 2008 Republican caucuses, 46 percent of likely participants said they were born-again or fundamentalist Christians. Other polls put the figure as high as 60 percent. Their votes put Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and a Baptist pastor, in the winner's circle on caucus night three years ago.

Other early states -- New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, Florida -- sometimes come off as more hospitable to moderates, libertarians, mavericks and fiscal disciplinarians. John McCain, identified less with religious conservatives than with national security issues and opposition to corporate pork (including subsidies for ethanol, made of Iowa corn), was not a good fit for Iowa. He didn't compete here in 2000, when he lost the nomination, and he abandoned it due to money problems in 2008, when he won it. He launched both of those campaigns in New Hampshire.

The specter of candidates bypassing their state has produced an alliance between Matt Strawn and Sue Dvorsky, the heads of the state Republican and Democratic parties, respectively. "We absolutely welcome a robust Republican conversation that includes all of the different voices of that party," Dvorsky told me. "I hope they all come. There are many conversations to have about lots of issues."

The recession and a tea party movement bent on cutting government spending have created a different set of issues for the 2012 caucuses. Strawn said Republican hopefuls will need to discuss jobs, the economy, deficits and entitlement reform. "There's no question your average Iowa caucus-goer is socially conservative and will want to know a candidate's core values," he told me. "But they will absolutely want to hear from the candidates in this environment on what their solutions are for addressing the fiscal challenges America has."

For anyone contemplating skipping, he added that organizing for the caucuses "pays incredible dividends" in the general election, since Iowa is a swing state. McCain, who did not have that organization, lost the state in 2008.

Strawn's "y'all come and talk economics" message was undercut at the forum by King (he said we need to "get the culture right" and the rest will follow) and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed. Reed signaled that certain types of candidates would be problematic -- the type, for instance, who would suggest a "truce" with Democrats on values issues as the nation's fiscal mess is sorted out. "I don't know about you, but I'd like to have a leader who can walk and chew gum at the same time," Reed said.

It was a rebuke of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who last year floated the idea of a temporary "truce on the so-called social issues" so the two parties could focus on the debt and deficit. It also could be read as a caution to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who lost Iowa to Huckabee in 2008 and is testing a new campaign message centered on economic issues and his business background.

Daniels is weighing whether to run and Romney is weighing how hard to play in Iowa. Reed's remark, heartily applauded, was yet another reminder to candidates like them that Iowa is a puzzle -- perhaps one that can't be solved.

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26 Comments

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PkSteph

The GOP/tea party can stay out of my life, my faith (or lack there of), and my uterus. It's funny how all these tea partiers were out in the streets marching over taxes and rights. What's some of the first things to do when in office? Get busy with jobs? No.. they start attacking abortion .... going so far as trying to make killing of doctors legal, redefining rape and investigating spontaneous miscarriages!

I KNEW this was coming. My husband was behind their tax issues and other more libertarian ideals. He said he could stand some of their wackiness. Anyone paying attention can tell the tea party was taking over during the summer. This isn't just social conservationism with a libertarian bent (the right is making it out like everything libertarian is in their domain. No... it is not!) . I call it social authoritarianism and it scares the $**% it of me!.

March 13 2011 at 12:09 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Wheres Navarre?

The religious leaders of churches, temples, synagogus, mosques should be the ones to focus on the morals of people, NOT the GOP. The GOP should stick to govt issues and RELIGION is NOT one of them. That is why our Consitution was written with separation of church and state. We, as a people, are to be free TO worship as we please and to be free OF religion if we choose to.

March 09 2011 at 8:28 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Wheres Navarre?

Someone needs to tell the GOP conservatives that we do NOT elect offiicials to be our morals police. They were not elected to decide our religious belliefs, decide our moral behavior, make our healthcare choices, or stick their noses into our private lives. They need to focus on the general issues that concern ALL of the citizens of this country. They need to focus on unemployment, creating jobs, the economy, and terrorism among MANY other issues that face the voters.

March 09 2011 at 8:24 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Wheres Navarre?'s comment
atlasusa

What MOST Americans fail to understand, or perhaps the special interests and the politicians in their pockets DISTORT: our government is to create and foster a FAIR and SECURE environment for ALL Americans. Whether the issues regard defense, terrorism/security, diplomacy, healthcare, education, infrastructure...... and so on, our representatives should be critical, forward thinkers. When people expect the government to CREATE jobs, that means BIGGER government....... the government should plan and enact legislation and programs to create a fertile environment for economic growth, a healthy and safe America - and that means ESPECIALLY BUILDING a BETTER future. Sure, while we educate and defend and build infrastructure, we ARE CREATING JOBS - but most important- we are BUILDING a FUTURE for OUR CHILDREN and GRANDCHILDREN........

March 10 2011 at 10:43 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
joe

When the country is facing a destructive deficit because of out of control spending. When the Middle East is coming apart at the seams. When gasoline prices are skyrocketing and serious inflation is just around the corner the smart thing to do is to turn the discussion to social issues. The problem with that strategy is that the people are not dumb enough to fall for it.

March 09 2011 at 7:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
joe

The Republican hopefuls should just sit back, relax and let Obama's policies defeat him. He's doing a good job of it so far.

March 09 2011 at 7:23 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
efleishman

IF REPUBLICANS HAD ANY INTEGRITY THEY WOULD RETURN EVERY CENT THEY HAVE TAKEN FROM SOCIAL SECURITY, THE GI BILL, MEDICARE, VETERANS BENEFITS, AND SCHOLARSHIP FUNDS. IN ADDITION THEY WOULD PROVIDE DEVENSE TREASURIES FOR EVERY CORPORATION VIP THAT HAS INDULGED IN INSIDE TRADING, PHONY INVESTMENT SCHEMES, DISHONEST BOOKKEEPING, SWEETHEART DEALS, AND PRICE FIXING IN THE NAME OF GOOD OLD AMERICAN BUSINESS. THE RIGHT TO LIFE PEOPLE SHOULD ADOPT AND PROVIDE FOR EVERY FATHERLESS CHILD OUT OF WEDLOCK.
THE REPUBLICANS SHOULD ALSO ONLY BUY FULLY AMERICAN USED CARS. THEN AND ONLY THEN WE MIGHT TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY.

March 09 2011 at 7:20 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
brutalefrank

Social Issues are the smoke and mirrors that Republicans have been using for years. Yet when they have the majority don't do anything about the social issues as they promised. Why? Because if they did, they'd have nothing to run on the next time.

March 09 2011 at 5:58 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
longeye

Mitch Daniels has been unable to control Republican wingnuts in the Indiana Legislature. Jobs and the economy are not their important issues. Gay marriage, abortion, and busting labor unions is what is important to them. The Governor's agenda, and even a state budget, may not get done because of their inane behavior. Good luck to anyone courting social conservatives.

March 09 2011 at 5:41 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
silask

I hope the Republicans continue to consentrate on these issues.....Let's see, how may Public Affairs have there Senators and Candidates (Newt) had. What a bunch of hypocrites. First they tell the American People they are for Families and than they distroy the middle class. Than they take the country from a 6 trillion $ surplus to an 11 trillion $ deficit and the loss of over 2 million jobs and then blame Obama for having to spend turn the ship of state around. Republicans - What a Bunch of LOSSERS!

March 09 2011 at 5:04 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
atlasusa

The Republican Party should let religious institutions focus on moral and social issues and instead contribute to getting America on a stable track towards future prosperity and security. The Republicans promised focusing on JOBS JOBS JOBS and now as if suffering from Political Attention Deficit Disorder, seem distracted and off track.

March 09 2011 at 3:38 PM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to atlasusa's comment
wolfsonnydiane

i just cant understand how republicans get millions of citicens to vote against their own interest because of god,guns or that great threat to schristianity gays. Who prohibits them from worshiping as they please? Who stops them from convincing all americans not to have abortion? One might conclude that its not so much about convincing them as jesus would do Rather its more about forcing you to do as they want. Guns some ones gonna take your gun that you may desperatyly need to defend your self should the country be taken over by a dictater. Evan though in over 200 years theirs never been a threat of that happenig Makes one question just how smart one is who votes on those issues and why their so easaly decived

March 09 2011 at 5:20 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to wolfsonnydiane's comment

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