Andy Kopsa

Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality

Iowa! New Hampshire! South Carolina! Santorum! God!

Bob Vander Plaats (Mr. Clappy) at Santorum’s Iowa victory speech

The Iowa Republican caucuses found Mitt Romney winning in an 8 vote landslide over Rick Santorum.  Not 8 percent – 8 votes.  Santorum’s showing was impressive and more of a win than Romney’s.  The candidates packed up and left for New Hampshire, Bachmann dropped out and Perry is heading straight to South Carolina – he is sick of the “loosey-goosey” Iowa process and would like to get back to the real deal.

Barring an airport restroom toe tapping incident, Romney will win New Hampshire.  But, Santorum is happy to use his Iowa victory to peel off some Romneyites.   With Newt’s newfound obsession to bury Romney – and after giving an Iowa concession speech that practically endorsed Santorum – the margin between first, second and third place will be shaved.

A January 5 shows the field like so:

Santorum edges out “Not Sure” by a nose

While Perry is off trying to scoop up votes in a friendlier southern state Santorum will let his boots on the ground team in South Carolina work its magic for him – just like in Iowa – while he traipses around NH.

Let me explain.

The media marveled at the spending gap between Romney and Santorum.  According to the Washington Post Romney spent about $1.47 million on media and won 29,874 votes = $49 per vote - Santorum spent only $21,980 in Iowa and took 29,908 votes in the caucuses, totaling about 73 cents per vote.

Romney spent most of that slamming Gingrich while Santorum didn’t need to spend as much – he had The FAMiLY Leader (TFL), Bob Vander Plaats and a host of Evangelicals both in and out of the pulpit spreading the Santorum good news.  (Currently in New Hampshire, from USA Today, “Romney is pumping $264,000 into television ads in New Hampshire, while Santorum is spending just $16,000 in the Granite State this week, according to the Associated Press.”)

The pastors – namely Cary Gordon of the recently bankrupt Cornerstone World Outreach in Sioux City, Iowa and Jeff Mullen of Point of Grace church in Waukee (and, Mullen is running for Iowa Senate).  Both have worked with TFL and Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition to organize the Evangelical electorate in Iowa.  Be it rallying against gay marriage, ousting justices from the Iowa supreme court or waxing ridiculous about secularism’s resemblance to Nazis, these pastors defied the IRS to endorse candidacies.

Santorum was on the stump in Iowa since the anti-judge campaign during the mid-terms of 2010.  He showed up with Vander Plaats and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins on the FRC and National Organization for Marriage anti-judge bus tour which rallied the Evangelical base to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

To recap, The FAMiLY Leader is responsible for the bizarre “Marriage Vow” made famous in July that extolled the benefits of slavery to African-American families (after push-back, TFL removed all reference to slavery from the pledge’s text) and women’s role in society (producing lots of babies) and most recently a possible pay to play scandal where TFL asked Santorum to essentially pay for its endorsement.  (Despite all this, TFL wouldn’t be half as interesting a story if the organization hadn’t been built with over $3 million in federal funds.)

Bob Vander Plaats, a former high school principal (with a gentle, golden Trumpian comb over), was called a Republican political “kingmaker” byThe Atlantic (and almost all national media outlets) and ranked as one of the top 10 “endorsements the presidential candidates covet most” by The Hill last year.

TFL began building its serious national political clout during the run up to the 2010 mid terms.  Then known as the Iowa Family Policy Center, The FAMiLY Leader (the little “i” stands for subservience to God) scooped up the three-time Iowa gubernatorial race loser Bob Vander Plaats.  His assignment?  To lead the charge to oust the three Iowa Supreme Court Justices that ruled in favor of same-sex marriage (mentioned above).  With the help of over half-million of out-of-state dollars from groups like The Family Research Council, the insane American Family Association and the National Organization for Marriage – they pulled it off.

Vander Plaats leveraged this success and his success in chairing Huckabee’s campaign to victory in 2008 to become the man holding the door for every single GOP candidate coming through Iowa in 2011. The organization’s coup de grace this caucus season?  The Thanksgiving Family Forum featuring Republican candidates taking turns weeping during their personal testimony to cement their Christian conservative cred.  Riveted Evangelicals were stapled in their pews as the candidates spoke for over two hours in an Iowa church.

Santorum’s chumminess with The FAMiLY Leader will serve him well.  TFL is part of network of Christian organizations – affiliates of Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.  The South Carolina analog to TFL – The Palmetto Family Council – will undoubtedly follow suit and start working its magic for Santorum.  The Palmetto Family Council also received federal funding – $1.2 million to preach heterosexual marriage and abstinence-only via George W. Bush’s faith-based initiatives.

One thing to note:  It doesn’t matter what Santorum wins – Romney is a foregone conclusion as the nominee which in turn won’t matter because Obama is a shoe-in.  This is a polish job for 2016.  Santorum is just trying to get his organization right, his message will need to be refined as he can’t possibly let his crazy hang out too much – gotta keep that man on dog as analogy for homosexuality stuff to yourself Rick.

That Santorum will not get the candidacy is irrelevant – it is the right-wing infrastructure of state Family Research Council affiliates (in many cases built with taxpayer money) that enabled Santorum to spend so little money in places like Iowa and no doubt South Carolina.

There are many things to understand about the caucus process itself before one even dives into the run up to the caucus circus of GOP campaigning.  If you would like to investigate further I recommend this link on the Des Moines Register website.  I encourage you to check this out but here is the top line:  no delegates were awarded, nor will they be until the convention and even then delegates can hop from candidate to candidate.

You could say – and many have – that Iowa just doesn’t matter and in a way you would be right. But in the sense that Iowa gives us an inside view as to how candidates will campaign and who is campaigning for them is invaluable.* Iowa is the first true vetting process for the presidential election.  Candidates are forced to leave it all on the field in Iowa.  They have to show up, sling their arm around a farmer or hoist a baby off a propped hay bale at the state fair.

(This was purely a GOP race this year.  Repeat – GOP race only.  This bit of information will help the observer understand the who-can-out-conservative-Christian-the-other-candidate battle waged across the state.)

I don’t remember which pundit brought this up during the caucus coverage (probably Chris Matthews) that they spoke with 2 (count ‘em – 2!) Iowans that said they wouldn’t vote for Romney because of his Mormon faith.

This is a popular story line and one that the media loves to whip up.  Though it may have been true Romney’s last go-round, the sheer desperation of the Republican party has done away with much anti-Mormon sentiment.  With such a representative sample of two people, Chris (or whoever it was) does nothing to help the country’s ailing perception of Iowa.  Iowa is not the bible belt.  Again – this was a GOP caucus – Iowa Democrats effectively didn’t caucus this year.  As with any GOP anything the God talk is going to be at least a simmer and often a rolling boil.  In Iowa there is just a fine point put on right-wingery as the main political group is The FAMiLY Leader.

By the way, Iowa has Mormon Secretary of State, Matt Schultz.  (Schultz ended up backing Santorum.)

I have a handful of Evangelical friends in Iowa so I ran the Mormon question up the flagpole.  Was it an issue at their precinct?  The answer came back a resounding no.  One very conservative Christian gentleman I went to high school with (Jason S.) summed it up like this:

“The supporter for Romney in our precinct specifically mentioned that although Romney’s relationship with God was different than this person’s own, they would leave that between him and God. Perhaps my perception was stronger than the reality, we will have to see. It does appear though that there are a number of people who are of the camp that there is some sort of common morality between most religions and that this is what is important, that the elected official has demonstrated that they are morally upstanding.”

I found this Romney supporter’s rationale refreshing: leave Romney’s religion between him and his God.

Here is what a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll finds about the 2012 Republican caucus in Iowa:

Among the 57% of Iowa caucus-goers who describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians, Santorum finished in first place with 32% support. Ron Paul garnered 18% of the evangelical vote, while Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry each received 14% of the evangelical vote.

Romney, Gingrich and Perry all walked away with 14%.  And, Romney didn’t show up to the Thanksgiving Family Forum sponsored by The FAMiLY Leader, whereas Gingrich and Perry did.  Pew also points out Huckabee was the clear winner in 2007 walking with 46% of the evangelical vote.

CNN’s Belief Blog co-editor Dan Gilgoff said that religion will not be a factor in The Granite State.  As if when the candidates left Iowa, the cathedral doors of the state clapped shut.  Although Gilgoff’s observations, and the input of New Hampshirites in his article, that religion is essentially less discussed in NH than IA is probably true.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t at work in the political process in New Hampshire.

Here’s what I mean.  In the very first paragraphvery first! – Gilgoff points to Cornerstone as the go to Christian group in the state.  (Karen Testerman, founder of Cornerstone has already endorsed Santorum).  He talks about the group’s flagging membership and how it’s changing its focus from “family values” (read:  anti-gay, anti-choice, Christian Worldview, etc) to fiscal and taxation issues – their membetship and bank account soared.

This doesn’t mean that religion is taking a backseat, this means religion – via a Christian Worldview – is embedded in our political system.  Here is an example of the Christian Worldview of The FAMiLY Leader pulled from an article I wrote (The Revealer) about the group last year:

Guided by such a Christian world view – with their interpretation of the Bible as policy guide — The Family Leader and Iowa House Republicans have already introduced a landslide of far-right legislation.  There is the previously-mentioned HJR 6 anti-gay marriage amendment.  A “religious conscience protection” act was introduced but quickly scrapped after a swift public backlash.  It is feverishly being reworked to more closely resemble other states’ Religious Freedom Restoration Acts for re-release, possibly during this congressional session.  There is a “personhood” bill that will be discussed in committee any day now, and the always repugnant “fetal pain” bill.  These bills attempt to make abortion illegal based on the personal religious belief of some that life begins at conception and on bad science claiming to prove that a fetus feels pain.

The Christian Worldview is applied across the board – not just on social issues but to economic and foreign policy as well.  Santorum aligns with this Worldview.  How will that play in New Hampshire?  His anti-gay talk is off to a bad start, the candidate receiving boos when he expressed his anti-gay marriage views.  But in a state that had the ‘chootspah’** to introduce an anti-evolution bill, the booing that greeted Santorum could be the exception not the rule in NH.

One thing is for sure: Santorum will have to downplay his Christian chatter in New Hampshire.  To be a mainstream candidate he is going to have to appeal to Ron Paul Libertarian and old-school Republicans not just the tea partying religious right.  Can he pull off such a ruse?  Don’t know, but if his recent claim that there should “always be a Jesus candidate” in a political race is any indication it may be rough going for Rick.

Notes:

South Carolina is currently looking like this:

 * RE:  Iowa’s first in the nation caucus status:  Anyone that goes first in anything is going to be the source of ridicule and frankly state envy.  Who would be more suited to go first?  Minnesota?  South Dakota?  New York?  LA?  Mississippi?  No one anywhere will be happy with who goes first except the state that goes first.  There is no magical place where an even racial, religious or socio-economic groups coexist in perfect percentages.  Just won’t happen.  Iowa is white.  There is no getting around that.  There is also no getting around the fact that Iowa gave Obama his first win in 2007.  And, as a native Iowan I would like to say you should always care about Iowa.
** (Bachmannian spelling) 
*** There is a minor debate about who handed Santorum his political win in Iowa among Christian pundits.  Steve Deace hands over full credit to Bob Vander Plaats for a Santorum win.  Keep your eyes on the sky in the Midwest people as Vander Plaats is about to float out the top.  Conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart doesn’t agree giving BVP some credit but spreading it around to several other helpmeets.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 89 other followers

%d bloggers like this: