Road to Ames

August 12, 2011

It seems that for many of the Republican presidential hopefuls, the road to Iowa Straw Poll in Ames leads right through the church aisle (the picture is of the backdrop for the stage at tomorrow's Straw Poll, which I took yesterday at the Republican primary debate in Ames). As tomorrow's contest has neared, the appeals to God and faith have rapidly increased as candidates urgently seek political salvation from the Iowans who will vote at the Straw Poll. The efforts demonstrate that the confessional political style is still dominating presidential politics. For instance, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, whose campaign needs to show strength with a good Straw Poll result tomorrow, recently called "Jesus Christ" one of his "political heroes" (along with Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, and Abraham Lincoln). Pawlenty also has been stepping up his outreach to conservative evangelical voters (see post here on earlier efforts). Pawlenty even joined with the "Values Bus," a political outreach effort by FRC Action, National Organization for Marriage, Susan B. Anthony List to make social issues a top priority among Straw Poll voters (the latter group, which recently was criticized by a federal judge for making false claims in political ads, is running a radio ad naming which candidates Iowans should decide between). In addition to Pawlenty, Rick Santorum joined the "Values Bus," as did Herman Cain and little-known candidate Thaddeus McCotter (who talked about the effort in a short video here).

Fighting Pawlenty for a top spot in the Straw Poll (and more literally in a testy exchange during last night's debate), Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has also been working to win over conservative evangelical voters (see post here). On recent Sundays, Bachmann has spoken in church services, such as this past Sunday when she spoke during the service of the non-denominational Point of Grace Church in Waukee, Iowa. Although all Bachmann did was make a couple of comments and read a Bible passage, it is sad that a church would give a candidate such an opportunity and therefore politicize the service. And the moment was made worse by the fact that the congregation cheered after her reading (guess they were happy she made it through without any gaffes). As she finished, the church's pastor walked up and said about Bachmann and her Bible:

There are some candidates who start running, and have this come-to-Jesus moment. ... What I love about this Bible ... is how well it's used.
It definitely seemed like a Bible was being used. Last week, Bachmann's campaign released a list of more than 100 pastors and church leaders who have endorsed her campaign. Although none of them are well-known figures, it is still quite a brazen religious-political strategy. The list makes Sunday's church service even more troubling since the pastor of the church is listed among the endorsers of Bachmann just a couple of days before he brought her to the pulpit and praised her during the church service. Such politicization of the church should not occur! Tomorrow will give some signs as to whether or not the confessional political efforts of Pawlenty, Bachmann, or the others are working.