Putting the Christ back in the Caucuses: Religion in the 2012 Election Update
In a little over a week, Republicans in Iowa will caucus in support of their favorite candidate for 2012. Given the number of candidates in the race and the length of this campaign, we thought it’d be helpful to take note of a few recent developments with the various campaigns.
In what initially was billed a major coup, Rick Santorum received the endorsement of conservative evangelical leaders Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley. You might remember Vander Plaats from the controversial pledge his organization asked candidates to sign that was filled with extreme positions including the outrageous assertion that African-American children were better off under slavery. Vander Plaats is again at the center of controversy, as questions arise about whether he actually sold the endorsement to Santorum and urged other candidates to drop out of the race.
Texas Governor Rick Perry is also making a play for the Religious Right vote in Iowa, releasing an ad attacking President Obama’s faith and absurdly claiming the President is waging a war on religion.
Meanwhile, the rise of both Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul in the polls has led to increased media scrutiny for both men. Reuters broke the news that Paul sent out a direct mail solicitation asking for money to help prepare for a “coming race war” and expose the federal government’s “cover-up on AIDS.”
And Gingrich is receiving more media attention of his tumultuous personal and political past, stirring skepticism among conservative evangelicals about his commitment to their issues (though Ralph Reed, noted Religious Right politico has said that “these voters believe in forgiveness, they believe in redemption” as explanation for their potential support for Gingrich). The irony of this is that Gingrich is being lambasted for refusing to formally sign the – now revised – Vander Plaats pledge.
The takeaway (and something reporters have noted) is that evangelical voters have yet to coalesce behind a candidate, making what happens on January 3 still very unpredictable. And as Marcia Pally noted in USA Today earlier this week, “While evangelical opposition to abortion is firm, the evangelical vote is not fixed.” In the 2008 presidential election, the movement of evangelicals (especially younger evangelicals) towards more moderate or progressive stances or candidates was noteworthy.
At a time when the GOP candidates are more out-of-step with Americans’ (and evangelicals’) views on economic inequality, immigration, and other issues than ever before, their jockeying in Iowa and extreme rhetoric may be moving the field even further away from evangelical voters at large.