* Perry, Bachmann take veiled swipes at Cain on abortion
* Six candidates court social conservatives in Iowa
* Romney skips Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event
By John Whitesides
DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) - Republicans Rick Perry
and Michele Bachmann took veiled swipes at surging presidential
rival Herman Cain Saturday as six of the party's White House
hopefuls courted social conservatives at an Iowa forum.
Appearing separately before about 1,000 conservative
activists, the Republican candidates all pledged to protect the
unborn, defend traditional marriage, limit government and bring
an end to the presidency of Democrat Barack Obama.
But Cain, the former pizza executive, came under indirect
fire for seeming to suggest earlier this week that while he
opposed abortion, government should not be trying to tell a
woman what to do about it.
"It is a liberal canard to say I am personally pro-life,
but government should stay out of that decision," Texas
Governor Rick Perry told the Iowa forum, held in an exhibition
hall at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
"If that is your view, you are not pro-life," he said,
without mentioning Cain by name. "You are pro having your cake
and eating it too."
Bachmann also criticized Cain's abortion comments without
naming him, saying she believed government must intervene to
protect the unborn and she would support a constitutional
amendment on the issue.
Bachmann, a U.S. representative from Minnesota, also said
she would never consider negotiating the release of detainees
at Guantanamo Bay -- a direct rebuttal of Cain's recent comment
that he would consider trading them for a U.S. hostage.
Cain, who has struggled in the past week as his views come
under more scrutiny, has tried to backtrack on both of those
comments. At the forum he was direct when asked about his
stance on abortion. "No abortions, no exceptions," he said.
The forum was heavy on social issues, and all of the
candidates were asked by the forum sponsors what they would do
to end abortion on demand. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum
questioned the commitment of the other candidates to fight on
The conservative activists at the forum, sponsored by the
Faith and Freedom Coalition, gave all of the candidates similar
polite but not wildly enthusiastic responses.
'A BETTER CHRISTMAS IN 2012'
Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich
drew some of the biggest cheers of the evening for a speech
that forecast economic recovery after Obama's defeat in
"Late that night, the recovery will begin," Gingrich said,
predicting a groundswell of optimism and hiring after Obama's
defeat. "We can have a dramatically better Christmas in 2012 if
it is the goodbye Obama Christmas."
The social and religious conservatives who play a big role
in the Iowa nominating contest on January 3 have spent much of
the Republican campaign desperately seeking a candidate to
Bachmann surged during the summer but faded shortly after
her August straw poll win, then faded. Perry took the lead
after entering the race in August but sunk after a series of
halting debate performances.
Cain is the latest candidate to surge in the race, with
recent polls giving him leads in Iowa and in some cases,
nationally. His supporters in the crowd said they thought he
could have some staying power.
"Look how far he's come with no budget. He's charismatic,
and when he says something you can believe it," said Keith
Lacy, who owns two Godfather's Pizza restaurants in Cedar
Rapids, Iowa. Cain had been chief executive of the pizza
Bachmann told the conservative crowd she was one of them
and said they needed to rally around a candidate to kick Obama
out of the White House.
"This is the year when social conservatives can have it
all," Bachmann said. "This is our year when we don't
compromise, this is our year when we don't settle."
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the nominal
front runner in the Republican field who on Thursday made just
his third visit to Iowa this year, skipped the forum. He has
had trouble winning over conservatives because of his past
support for abortion rights and an individual healthcare
After plunging millions into the Iowa contest in 2008,
Romney lost to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who won
strong support from the state's religious conservatives. Polls
showed big majorities of caucus-goers in 2008 made up their
mind in the last month before the contest.
U.S. Representative Ron Paul also spoke at the forum.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)
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