The Religious Right’s Outsized Influence in Iowa and the 2012 Election
This past Saturday, a number of the GOP presidential candidates traveled to Iowa for a “family forum,” a roundtable discussion moderated by GOP pollster Frank Luntz and sponsored by The Family Leader, an Iowa-based conservative Christian organization. The Family Leader, which has courted controversy in the past for its extreme statements on slavery, has since announced they’ve narrowed down their slate of potential endorsees to Perry, Santorum, Bachmann, and Gingrich. (Romney, notably absent from Saturday’s event, is not under consideration for The Family Leader’s endorsement.)
The event was yet another example of Republican candidates bending over backwards to appeal to the sizable constituency of conservative evangelical voters in Iowa. In addition to state-level groups, national Religious Right organizations have sponsored a number of events, like bus tours in Iowa, hoping to leverage the candidates’ attention to conservative religious voters in that state for more national influence and clout.
Faith in Public Life and Faithful America have worked to amplify the voices of progressive people of faith in Iowa, challenging the incorrect conventional wisdom that the only religious voters in the state are conservative.
And mainstream media coverage has also helped uncover the fact that groups like The Family Leader and the Family Research Council don’t always attract crowds or represent the faith community at large. The Des Moines Register covered a recent Values Voter bus tour event with prominent conservative Congressman Steve King (R-IA), mentioning in the lede paragraph that only 15 people were in attendance. And when the first Values Voter bus tour kicked off this summer, both Faithful America’s counter-rally and the media outnumbered actual participants.
It’s a well-worn story: religious conservatives hold the key to GOP candidate’s victory, so GOP candidates court these voters by sharing compelling conversion testimonies, using the right buzzwords on issues like abortion and gay marriage, and kissing the ring of various Religious Right power brokers like Tony Perkins, Ralph Reed, and Bob Vander Plaats.
This story gets trotted out each election cycle with good reason– this is a trend that continues to hold, and the Religious Right has gotten even savvier about integrating themselves into the mainstream of the Republican party and exerting influence. While Religious Right organizations still pay homage to their tried-and-true culture war issues, increasingly they share the stage with anti-tax organizations to tout GOP talking points with no explicit (or even implicit) grounding in religious values. They’re adapting to the current political environment and shoring up their centrality to the GOP coalition. The sway they continue to hold over the presidential race in Iowa, despite their disconnect from mainstream people of faith, is a clear example of this.
Photo of November 19 Thanksgiving Family Forum, via The Family Leader.