Tags: GOP | 2016 | Iowa | conservative

Possible GOP Candidates Pitch Ideas at Conservative Forum

Saturday, 24 January 2015 06:06 PM

The robust Christian right in early-voting Iowa plays an outsize role in helping determine the Republican presidential nominee, a political reality not lost on the parade of would-be 2016 candidates trying to draw attention at a Saturday gathering of social conservatives.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and many others turned the Iowa Freedom Forum into the unofficial launch of the next campaign for the Iowa caucuses. More than 1,000 religious conservatives met at a refurbished theater to hear their pitches.

In his remarks, Walker promoted his administration's enactment of voter identification, concealed carry handgun and abortion restriction legislation — all red-meat issues to the conservative audience.

For many Republicans, Walker is best known for beating back a recall effort and then winning re-election. Referring to the support he received during his political trials, he said: "Most of all I wanted to say thank you because most of you here, and across the state and across the country prayed for us."

Cruz challenged caucus participants to back only presidential candidates with a proven conservative track record, saying the standard should be, "Don't talk, show me." He also used his appearance to gather details on activists, asking them to text message the word "constitution" to a number he provided.

Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania who won the 2012 Iowa caucuses, said the GOP needs to do a better job convincing working Americans that Republicans are on their side.

"Too many people think we don't care about them," Santorum said as he called for lower taxes, less regulation and stronger family values.

The forum's sponsor, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, opened the event by asking the crowd, "Do you believe that the next president of the United States is going to be speaking to you today?" The audience erupted in applause and King responded, "As do I."

Missing from the lineup of speakers, however, were two possible candidates considered leading contenders for the nomination: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the party's 2012 nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Both declined to participate.

Real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump let it be known that he didn't think much of the pair. "You can't have Romney. He choked," Trump said. "You can't have Bush. The last thing we need is another Bush."

Also missing from the lineup were Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Few would pick Christie, an abortion rights and gay marriage opponent better known for his union and budget battles, to emerge as the favorite among Iowa's evangelical voters. Yet his appearance could allow him to make inroads with a group focused as much on ideological purity as defeating the Democrat nominated to follow President Barack Obama.

"He has gusto that makes him an everyman. That appeals to me," 29-year-old Steve Friend of Sioux City said of Christie. "But I think he tanked the 2012 election by praising President Obama after (superstorm) Sandy."

Christie has defended his praise of the president for visiting storm-ravaged New Jersey in the weeks before Romney lost. But it's an image that sticks in the craw of Iowa's most right-wing conservatives.

"I don't trust him," said Mary Kay Hauser, another forum attendee. "I think he's disingenuous. I think he's part of the old New Jersey party."

Last week, when he was in Iowa for Gov. Terry Branstad's inauguration, Christie told reporters, "If I do run, I'll be myself and we'll see how Iowans like that."

While Christie has opposed abortion rights for 20 years, he said in 2011 that his Roman Catholic faith "does not rule who I am." He also has said homosexuality is not a sin and that he believes people who are gay are "born with a predisposition."

Those statements are red flags in a state where the past two caucus winners, Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, closely aligned themselves with Iowa's evangelical pastors and Christian home-school network.

"It's going to be tough for him here," said Justin Arnold, a Republican strategist in Iowa. "There's an image of him as a moderate."

Christie has worked over the past five years to build connections with the state's political players, including raising money for King's re-election campaigns.

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The robust Christian right in early-voting Iowa plays an outsize role in helping determine the Republican presidential nominee, a political reality not lost on the parade of would-be 2016 candidates trying to draw attention at a Saturday gathering of social...
GOP, 2016, Iowa, conservative
Saturday, 24 January 2015 06:06 PM
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