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How Religious Conservatives Shape The GOP Race


While Newt Gingrich may not have universal appeal among Tea Party voters, he seems to be drawing wide support from a key Republican constituency, Christian conservatives. The religious right has significant influence in many early voting states, including Iowa, which has its caucuses coming up on January 3rd.

Yesterday, we spoke with Bob Vander Plaats. He has an influential conservative Christian organization called The Family Leader. Its offices are just outside of Des Moines, Iowa. And with many national polls currently showing Newt Gingrich with a significant lead over Mitt Romney, we asked how the former House speaker has been able to capture the attention of religious conservatives in away Mitt Romney so far has not.

BOB VANDER PLAATS: Well, first of all, speaker Gingrich has showed up to Iowa. Mitt Romney, for all intents and purposes has really, you know, dissed the state. He's dissed an organization like ours. He's refused to show up at a lot of different caucus events that really could have elevated his campaign. And you know what? I think speaker Gingrich has really been bolstered a lot by his debate performances.

SIMON: I'm struck by the fact that what you say has nothing to do with conservatism or religion.

PLAATS: Well, you know, as far as religion, the social issues are very important to us. And obviously Governor Mitt Romney has been inconsistent on a lot of issues that are important to us, whether it be the sanctity of human life or the foundation of God's design for the family - one man, one woman marriage. It's not that he's just been on both sides of an issue. He's been passionately on both sides of an issue.

SIMON: Is that Romney's religion an issue with you?

PLAATS: No. As a matter of fact, with our base of supporters, very rarely does the fact that Governor Romney is a Mormon even come up. It's way more on the trust gap in his leadership on issues. For example, he led public health care in Massachusetts, universal health care. And President Obama says he modeled ObamaCare after the Massachusetts health care plan.

Well, Governor Romney still says he was right with the Massachusetts health care but he would repeal ObamaCare. Those are things that just don't line up for us.

SIMON: Mr. Vander Plaats, let me put a question to you the way Ross Douthat, he New York Times op-ed columnist generally taken to be a conservative writer stated it. He said the real issue for religious conservatives isn't whether they can trust Gingrich; it's whether they can afford to be associated with him. And Mr. Douthat went on to mention questions about Newt Gingrich's personal life, and the fact that he pursued an impeachment case against President Clinton at the same time he was conducting his own extramarital affair.

PLAATS: Well, there's no doubt, you know, those are issues. And those are issues that I've had the opportunity to speak with speaker Gingrich about several years ago. I think with speaker Gingrich and his personal life it's well-documented. You know, but several years ago he is come clean saying, you know, he was wrong. He's been repentant. As much as we don't like what happened, the heart of our faith is still forgiveness.

Now, what I would say, Scott, if this was a road to Des Moines conversion, where this just happened a few weeks ago or a few months ago, saying, hey, I'm running for president. By the way, I messed up. I'm sorry. I don't think it'll play real well.

SIMON: Mr. Vander Plaats, let me pose with a question that kind of looks ahead to the November election.

PLAATS: You bet.

SIMON: Is there a better living example of a multi-generational, Christian family than the family that lives in the White House now?

PLAATS: You know, I've been very open in applauding President Obama and Michelle Obama - First Lady Michelle Obama - and the example that they have been for families with their personal life. However, I think people would see that his policies for this country have been very anti-family. And, as a matter of fact, it's one that families can't afford another four more years of.

I think this is going to be a referendum on his leadership policies, not on his example and role modeling of a family unit out of the White House.

SIMON: Bob Vander Plaats, who heads Family Leader, a conservative Christian organization in Des Moines. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

PLAATS: Oh, thank you, Scott. I really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.