Candidates battle for Christian conservatives in Des Moines

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People stand up and applaud for Newt Gingrich after his speech during Republican debate on Saturday, Oct. 22, in Des Moines. 

David Bartholomew

Abortion, gay marriage, energy and Barack Obama are four topics at the top of the agenda for the Republican Party’s prospective 2012 presidential candidates, and on Saturday in Des Moines, those topics were brought to the forefront at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Fall Banquet and Presidential Forum.

Hosted at the Paul P. Knapp Learning Center at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, the event brought in hundreds of conservative evangelical voters from around the state to see presidential candidates Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum give speeches and answer questions concerning abortion, gay marriage, energy and the Republican base’s favorite punching bag, Barack Obama.

The night started off as event-goers arrived in droves to the event center past a slew of red, white and blue campaign signs piled alongside the road that could make a normal voter dizzy.

But that did not seem to matter to attendees because they were there for one reason: to see their presidential hopefuls tickle every part of their conservative itchings.

However, the enthusiasm was rivaled for a while by a small group of protesters affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement chanting and holding up signs such as “We are the 99%” as people walked into the building.

“We are here backing the Occupy Des Moines people because we are disgusted with the way the financial sector tanked our economy,” said protester David Leonard. “[The Republicans] only care about helping the rich get richer and refuse to raise taxes on them.”

When asked about the 2012 presidential elections, Leonard said, “I don’t think any of the candidates here have a chance to beat Obama.”

However, Republican favorite Mitt Romney did not attend the event and Leonard reiterated that Romney was the Republicans’ best chance of beating Obama.

By the time the majority of the attendees had checked in and the buffet lines had opened up, the presidential candidates began to trickle into the building one by one, smiling, talking to reporters and shaking hands with every willing person.

When asked how he intends to court college voters, Texas Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul said, “My message of personal liberty is very appealing to college students … and we have very large crowds that turn out from colleges because they understand that they are inheriting a mess.”

Former Speaker of the House and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich went into more detail on the same question by mentioning his plan for a personal Social Security plan and many other initiatives he claims will essentially give everyone more control over their lives.

“Every standard will be better for young Americans,” Gingrich said.

At around 6 p.m., after the candidates and guests were seated, conservative political activist and founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition Ralph Reed Jr. gave an opening speech welcoming the guests and the presidential candidates as well as expressing the views and grievances of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and its evangelical Christian members in Iowa.

“Iowa should continue to go first in choosing our president,” Reed said. “Forty-four percent of [Republican] voters are self-identified evangelicals … We believe that marriage be defined as a sacred union between a man and a woman.”

Reed went on to reference the belief that some Democrats had put President Obama on the same level as a Messiah.

“There is only one Messiah and he sits at the right-hand side of God,” Reed said. “And when the dust settles [after the 2012 presidential elections], Barack and Michelle Obama will be packing their boxes at the White House and heading back to Chicago.”

This speech brought a thundering applause from those listening and became an excellent launching pad for the next speaker Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

“I’m not here because I am concerned with the future of the Republican Party, I am here because I am concerned with the future of this country,” Priebus said. “It’s a battle between government’s insatiable appetite to grow and freedom … do you want to have a country of makers or a country of takers?”

Speaking directly to the presidential candidates in attendance, Priebus said, “There is no such thing as a perfect candidate … and the [Republican National Committee] is here to work with you.”

Once again, the speech was well-received by the conservative audience and allowed for an easy transition into the presidential forum in which each candidate would give a short speech and then answer a few questions from moderators. Cain, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and the rising star of the Republican candidates, was first to speak to the audience.

Behind a backdrop of the IFFC’s flag logo, Cain expressed his concerns with the current state of the country, but also praised America’s unrivaled ability to change and grow.

“At the rate we are going, we will eventually be telling our grandkids what the United States used to be like,” Cain said. “This is a fight for freedom and the United States has protected that freedom since its inception … There is one strength you never hear mentioned and this is America’s ability to change, and we need to change the occupant of the White House.”

Cain also stressed three points of focus in order for the Republicans to stay strong in 2012: staying informed, staying involved and staying inspired.

During the Q-and-A session, Cain also expressed his support for constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman and making abortion illegal across the country. However, his final point addressed his infamous economic plan known as “9-9-9.”

“We will have an across-the-board mandated 10 percent cut,” Cain said. “And I would throw out the current tax code and put in the 9-9-9 plan.”

After Cain was led off the stage, Minnesota Congresswoman Bachmann was the next to speak. Bachmann, a tea party favorite, is known for being one of the staunchest critics of Obama and continued her critical rhetoric throughout her speech as well as highlighting her conservative credentials toward gay marriage and her unwaivering support for Israel, a common rallying cause for conservative Evangelicals.

“People have made up their minds,” Bachmann said. “Barack Obama won’t have a second term … this is the year social conservatives can have it all.

“I will stand with Israel and would never consider negotiations for the Guantanamo Bay prisoners. And I will be fully supportive of a constitutional amendment to define life as beginning at conception.”

Bachmann ended her time on stage by proposing to eliminate the departments of Education and Commerce and the Environmental Protection Agency as well as instituting a flat-tax system and pushing the United States toward its full energy potential.

Following Bachmann, Texas Gov. and presidential frontrunner Rick Perry addressed the audience and spoke of how his humble, Christian beginnings in Texas shaped his view toward abortion and gay marriage.

“We must protect our innocent and unborn children,” Perry said. “I was proud to defund Planned Parenthood in Texas … And when it comes to faith, it is the core of who I am.”

Perry ended his talk with his support of putting conservative judges on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade as well as keeping the tax burden light on job creators.

Following Perry, the final three candidates, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, gave similar speeches to the previous speakers, but to a less momentous applause mostly because of their low polling numbers throughout Iowa and the nation.

Gingrich laid out his proposed 21st Century Contract with America plan as well as his desire to fire all White House “Czars” — presidential advisers — upon assuming the presidency. Congressman Paul laid out his disgust with the Federal Reserve as well as touting his strong history of reducing government waste and spending as well as showing his strong pro-life and pro-traditional marriage views.

Finally, former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum displayed a strong national security speech, which included his belief in taking strong action toward his perceived threat from Iran, which appeared to be an attempt to separate himself from the rest of the candidates in order to boost his low polling numbers.

The night ended with an even more enthused crowd than when the night started as the majority of the attendees felt more confident than ever that whoever became the Republican nominee could beat President Obama in the 2012 elections.