Tags: GOP2016 | Mike Huckabee | Ted Cruz | evangelicals | gop | campaign | iowa

Evangelicals Pleased, Yet Worried, by Large GOP Field

By    |   Monday, 27 Apr 2015 09:35 AM

A wide swath of Republican hopefuls are aiming their efforts at the party's evangelical and social conservatives, but many of those voters fear the extra attention could be a mixed blessing that will split their vote and make way for more centrist-candidates.

"It's a good-bad scenario," Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader, an Iowa-based advocacy group for social conservatives, told The Wall Street Journal. "It's bad because we could divide our votes. It's good because we have so many great people to choose from."

In the last two presidential campaigns, Iowa's social conservatives pushed dark-horse candidates, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008 and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012, to the top tier, and both are expected to again seek the White House in 2016.

But this time around, they have far more competition for the evangelicals' votes. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are both sons of ministers, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry have both held organized days of prayer.

Over the weekend, nine declared or potential candidates arrived at the Point of Grace Church in Waukee, Iowa, where they courted the state's evangelical voters during an event that was organized by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Winning the hearts of those voters is important for scoring an early primary victory in Iowa, where roughly six out of 10 Republican caucus-goers in 2008 and 2012 called themselves evangelicals. Nearly half of them backed Huckabee, himself an ordained minister, in 2008, and Santorum took about a third of the vote in 2012.

However, social conservatives favor different types of candidates. Some like the more outspoken candidates, while others lean toward those who oppose such issues as abortion or same-sex marriage but don't make them the focus of their campaigns.

Iowa evangelicals, as of now, seem to favor Cruz and his brash, outspoken opinions on many social issues, giving him a potential edge over Santorum and Huckabee, watchers are saying.

But the race isn't lost yet for Santorum, who, like Huckabee, has not yet officially entered, said GOP activist Karen Fesler.

"There's a lot of support for Rick left over from the last campaign," she told The Journal, "but a lot of those people have told me they want to see what the other guys have to say."

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson are also aiming efforts at the state's social conservative vote, with Fiorina saying at Saturday's event that religion saved her from "desperate sadness" after she lost a daughter to drug addiction.

Many of the other candidates spoke of their faith during the Iowa forum as well, with Perry saying religion helped him turn his life around when he was young, and Walker saying his prayers gave him strength while fighting the Wisconsin recall election.

Some major, more centrist figures did not attend Saturday's event, including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

But evangelical leaders have had trouble in the past rallying conservatives around just one Republican, and this time around there are far more candidates to choose from.

More than 20 Republicans are considering a run for the White House, and party veterans say a candidate could win in Iowa by netting less than 20 percent of the vote.

"I could see us punching six tickets out of Iowa," said Sam Clovis, a college professor and conservative activist, about the number of candidates coming out of Iowa and still running strong. Typically, only three or four come out with a chance of advancing further.

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A wide swath of Republican hopefuls are aiming their efforts at the party's evangelical and social conservatives, but many of those voters fear the extra attention could be a mixed blessing that will split their vote and make way for more centrist-candidates.
evangelicals, gop, campaign, iowa, conservatives
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2015-35-27
Monday, 27 Apr 2015 09:35 AM
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