For Iowa Evangelicals, Values Compete with Gingrich Electability
The voter base that gave Huckabee an Iowa victory in 2008 is considering whether electability trumps values.
In the past, Newt Gingrich was not always the most pro-life of politicians.
He has stated he wouldn't ban abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk, and he has also supported providing federal money for embryonic stem cell research. And even without the abortion question, Gingrich is not your typical family-man candidate for evangelicals, with his history of mulitple marriages and affairs.
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But Gingrich has been reaching out to the Christian right. He attended a Family Values forum and remains in play as one of four viable candidates being considered for enorsement by The Family Leader, a prominent Iowa Christian group.
Next week, Gingrich will join Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum in Des Moines for a Dec. 14 screening of The Gift of Life, a documentary about abortion issues that will be hosted by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Huckabee, of course, rode to an Iowa caucus victory four years ago, largely on a wave of evangelical support.
But was it Huckabee's values that gained him so many votes? Some Iowa evangelicals said a candidate needs more than a clean values track-record to win.
"He was very likeable and charismatic," Judd Saul, founder of the Cedar Valley Tea Party and self-identified member of the Christian right, said. "He had a preacher's charisma, and that's what won people over."
He said such considerations -- which candidate performs best and which candidate is considered electable -- might play heavily into who Iowa evangelicals support this time around.
"With Gingrich it's a mixed bag," he said. "The leadership wants to endorse a candidate that will win (against President Obama). Overall, the Christian base is on the side of Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum on principals. But their question is what is electable."
Personally, however, he said he was more concerned with values than perceived electability.
"We live in a society where everyone judges talent. We sit in our living rooms and watch American Idol, and we become a society that judges what is talent," he said. "We're looking at people for the wrong principals."
He said he was not alone in his beliefs.
"The really hardcore right is hardcore Santorum," he said.
If that's the case, the question may be whether that "really hardcore right," is large enough to make an impact.
Today, the Rev. Cary K. Gordon, a Sioux City evangelical leader who was prominent in the defeat of three Iowa Supreme Court justices over gay marriage, endorsed Santorum. Prior to August's Iowa Straw Poll, 100 evangelical church leaders endorsed Bachmann.
Those two candidates, though, have been polling in single digits, leaving Gingrich as the "not Romney" candidate with the highest poll numbers.
Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition and the state Republican National Committee for Iowa, seemed more concerned with not electing Mitt Romney than with Gingrich's values.
He said Gingrich's past statements on abortion didn't bother him because they were less extreme than Romney's.
"He (Gingrich) is still stongly pro-life. Mitt Romney has been all over the map," he said. "Post Iowa, if it comes down to Newt Gingrich versus Mitt Romney, the vast majority of Christians will get behind Newt Gingrich."
He stopped short of saying Gingrich would garner enough of the right's support to win the caucus.
"At the present time I don't see the Christian right coalescing around one candidate," he said. "I don’t know what will happen here in Iowa."
The Iowa caucuses are January 3. Patch will have live coverage of the results as they come in.