Nine announced and potential GOP presidential candidates will vie for the backing of evangelical activists gathering in Iowa Saturday night at a summit being called one of the state's most significant gatherings to date of religious conservatives.
Heading into the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition event, this week's Politico Caucus
is putting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at the top when it comes to social conservatives in Iowa, but former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
, who is set to announces his campaign ambitions next month, is coming in a close second.
"Iowa's social conservatives are fractured, but Ted Cruz is making all of the right moves to coalesce them," said a top Iowa Republican in the weekly questionnaire, while another said that Huckabee has many supporters, but "Cruz is making the argument that he is the conservative who can win by using every opportunity to tout his early fundraising haul."
Saturday's summit is being held at a church and organized by Iowa Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler and Ralph Reed, and should show if Huckabee can repeat his 2008 successes in Iowa.
Unlike in other states, Iowa's evangelical community holds particular sway when it comes to politics. In the state's Republican caucuses
, evangelical pastors are kingmakers, with sway over an important bloc of participants. Long before the campaign heats up, leading ministers are showered with personal attention from likely candidates, and they can negotiate their policy positions on issues such as gay rights and abortion.
Several other key candidates will appear during the four-hour program, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for a first appearance in the state since he declared his candidacy, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is trying to attract evangelical support.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum won the 2012 Iowa caucuses with the evangelical vote that swung to Huckabee in 2008, but insiders say they don't' expect him to hold onto that base this time around.
Typically, Iowa's religious conservatives rally behind one favorite candidate, and the person they choose can often come out as a surprise winner come time for the state caucuses, such as when evangelist Pat Robertson defeated then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1988.
There are some long shots hoping to attract social conservative backing Saturday night as well. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal may gain some support after writing an opinion piece for The New York Times
this week that further declared his opposition to same-sex marriage.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is often a favorite of the evangelical branch of the party, and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina could score points with her pro-life stance.
No question and answer periods are planned for the summit, which will feature stump speeches, and most of the speakers are holding events around Iowa on Saturday.
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