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5 GOP Presidential Maybes Share Iowa Stage

Five potential Republican presidential candidates addressed the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition on Monday night in suburban Des Moines. All five were trying to convey that they can best be trusted to follow the conservative path.

While there are no officially declared candidates yet, an overflow crowd packed the huge Point of Grace Church in Waukee, Iowa, to see the five make an early pitch for consideration.

They included former House speaker Newt Gingrich, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Atlanta businessman Herman Cain and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer.

The first half of the two-hour program consisted of speeches from event organizers and local politicians who had warnings about the dire state of America under President Obama.

The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's Gopal Krishna talked of spreading socialism.

"We are concerned that a country that was founded on European-style Christian moral values has now become a multicultural haven for every weird and kinky lifestyle," Krishna said.

Ralph Reed, a longtime leading conservative Christian political activist, addressed a debate brewing within the Republican Party about the proper role of social issues amid the fiscal and economic concerns of the day.

"My message to the national Republican Party tonight is real simple," Reed began. "If you turn your backs on the pro-family, pro-life constituency and on the values that they stand for, you will be consigned to permanent minority status."

Missing from the event were former Govs. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, as well as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) was in Iowa giving a speech Monday, but not at this event.

The evening was not a debate, and there was no question-and-answer session. Each potential candidate was given roughly 10 minutes to speak.

Up first was Cain, a talk radio host and former head of the Godfather's Pizza chain.

"It was not right for the president of the United States to order the Justice Department to not enforce the Defense of Marriage Act. That was not right," Cain said.

Then came Gingrich, who quoted the Declaration of Independence.

" 'We hold these truths' — so, what are these truths?" Gingrich asked. "That we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights."

Roemer highlighted his anti-abortion credentials. But he used most of his time to talk about the impact of money on members of Congress: "I'll tell you what they're addicted to: special interest money. 'All I want is access money, Wall Street money, too big to fail money, union money, bundled money, PAC money, PAC money, PAC money, PAC money.' "

Roemer's list got long enough to include a critique of the federal subsidies for ethanol, a major source of income in Iowa.

Then came Pawlenty: "We need to remember this and always remember it: The Constitution was designed to protect people of faith from government, not to protect government from people of faith."

The final speaker was Santorum, long a favorite of social conservatives.

"I just had a chance to speak to Rich Anderson, who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee here in Iowa," Santorum said. "He says, 'You know, I've been dealing with these marriage issues and abortion issues and, my goodness, is it tough. I've never been through the assault that I've been through.' I said, 'Welcome to the club.' "

Dora Lynn Underberg, 65, from Waukee was in the audience and said she loved what she heard.

"I vote social issues, that's my main thing. That's our moral fiber. I'm so anti-abortion and pro-God in our government and our country," she said.

In the 2008 Iowa caucuses, 60 percent of the Republicans who turned out to take part identified themselves as evangelical.

That majority has not gone away, and Monday's event suggested that at least some of the prospective candidates of 2012 will make the contest for social issues voters their first order of business.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.