Two WeeksDecember 20, 2011
Two weeks from today, Republicans across Iowa will gather in homes, schools, and community centers for the Iowa presidential caucuses. With the race still up for grabs, the candidates are racing to gain momentum and votes. Since Christmas will keep many voters from paying attention for at least a few days, there is little time left to campaign. Despite the fact that Iowans will soon cast their votes, many conservative Christian activists are still divided over which candidate to support. Since conservative evangelical Christians have played influential roles in previous Iowa caucuses--such as propelling Mike Huckabee to victory in 2008 and Pat Robertson into second place in 1988--a united front from them could determine the outcome. On the other hand, if conservative evangelicals remain divided, it could help Mitt Romney do what he could not in 2008--win. Although Romney has some prominent evangelical supporters, many more are suspicious of him because of his Mormonism and his flip-flopping record. The criticism of his Mormonism is symptom of confessional politics (see posts here and here). Recently, there have been a few important endorsements and efforts that could impact the Iowa results. The conservative evangelical group The Family Leader, which has hosted the candidates at various events and sparked controversy earlier this year with its marriage pledge it asked candidates to sign (see post here), had initially signaled it would endorse a candidate on Monday of this week. However, yesterday they announced they had not yet reached a decision. Apparently, some leaders in the group wanted to endorse former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich--who had recently risen in the polls but now appears to be falling--but others were uncomfortable with that because of his marital past and instead wanted to support former Senator Rick Santorum or Texas Governor Rick Perry. Today, the group announced they would not endorse a candidate as a group but that its leader, Bob Vander Plaats, would. Vander Plaats, who chaired former Arkansas Huckabee's Iowa campaign in 2008 and ran unsuccessfully for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2010, announced today he is endorsing Santorum (the photo is one I took of Santorum in Iowa in August). Vander Plaats, who had reportedly been pushing the group to endorse Gingrich, stated today:
I believe Rick Santorum comes from us, he comes from us, just not to us, he comes from us. He's one of us. ... I look forward to the next two weeks to see what I can do to advance his candidacy to get him out of the state of Iowa.Chuck Hurley, who leads the Iowa Family Policy Center, joined the press conference to also endorse Santorum. Hurley suggested that Perry and Representative Michele Bachmann should combine forces with Santorum instead of splitting the vote (meaning he hopes two of the three will drop out of the race). Vander Plaats apparently even called Bachmann a few days ago to urge her to drop out. It will be interesting to see if these endorsements and the media attention help Santorum gain votes and more attention. Santorum has clearly been using confessional politics as a foundational strategy for his campaign (see posts here, here, and here). As the candidate who has spent the most time campaigning in Iowa, he could sneak into the top tier when the votes are counted.
It seems unlikely that Perry or Bachmann will step aside for Santorum in the next two weeks. Like Santorum and Bachmann, Perry is continuing his use of confessional politics. He is traveling across Iowa speaking about his faith while riding on a bus that proclaims in large letters: "Faith, Jobs and Freedom." On Sunday, Perry spoke in an Iowa church, which raises serious questions about a church that would let a candidate speak during its service--especially on the Sunday before Christmas! During his remarks, Perry urged Christians to "not be intimidated" to speak publicly about their faith. Such a comment seems odd, but is consistent with the fact that he thinks the political attacks on him are because of his faith rather than his ideas and "oops" moments. Yesterday, he joined a tele-town hall hosted by Ralph Reed's Faith & Freedom Coalition. Perry has also started comparing himself to Tim Tebow, the outspoken evangelical quarterback for the Denver Broncos (which might be a good comparison since Perry is running on his faith rather than competency). The fact that Tebow got crushed by the New England Patriots over the weekend might not be a good omen for Perry as he seeks to beat the former governor of Massachusetts. Last week, Perry joined Santorum, Gingrich, and Bachmann at a screening of a pro-life film. The event was hosted by Huckabee, who is probably the most coveted individual as this cycle's candidates try to gain endorsements before the Iowa vote. However, as long as the four candidates who appeared at the screening remain in the race, it seems unlikely one of them can emerge as the next Huckabee.