Iowa Christian Alliance event features Santorum, three GOP candidates for governor

The Iowa Christian Alliance is hosting an event this evening at a church in Windsor Heights and what follows is a live blog of the festivities.  Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is the keynote speaker.  Ralph Reed, formerly of the Christian Coalition, is the emcee.  Neither were able to fly into the Des Moines Airport due to fog.  Both landed at airports nearby and are driving as I type to get here.  Santorum’s flight to Des Moines was cancelled, so he flew into Cedar Rapids, hopped in a car and is due to arrive at about 6:15.  Reed was forced to fly to Minneapolis and drive the four-plus hours to Des Moines.  His arrival is pegged at 6:45 p.m.

A few moments ago a “young man” sidled up to the press table where four reporters and three laptops are positioned and left a neon yellow flier which hits Santorum for being “opposed to Right to Work.”  The flier suggests Santorum has something “in common” with five “big labor chronies” who are also pictured on the flier — the five would be President Barack Obama, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, State Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, Governor Chet Culver and Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy.  There’s a “paid for by the National Right to Work Committee” line on the back of the flier in fine print, below these words in large, bold print: “On July 10, 1996, Rick Santorum joined liberal politicians like Ted Kennedy and Tom Harkin in voting against S. 1788 (National Right to Work Act) on the floor of the U.S. Senate.  Please ask Senator Santorum to pledge to support Right to Work and to never support forced unionism again.”

Candidates for a variety of offices have tables surrounding the edgeof the sanctuary in which this event will be held.  

I’ve chatted with several people in the crowd to get a read on whether folks who’re part of the Christian Alliance have already chosen a candidate in the GOP gubernatorial primary.  Several spoke of Bob Vander Plaats with affection.  One woman said he would restore “Christian values” in the state.  Another said she had contemplated supporting former Governor Terry Branstad, but the recently-renewed scrutiny of his 16-year tenure as governor has prompted her to look elsewhere for a candidate. 

The most common sentiment I’ve heard, however, is that the crowd is most interested in having a Republican win the governorship in November.  As one man put it:  “We don’t want the ‘Big Lug’ anymore.” That would be a reference to current Governor Chet Culver, a Democrat who ran a campaign ad in 2006 which was narrated by his wife. ‘This big lug is my husband,” Mari Culver said.

The three GOP candidates (Terry Branstad, Rod Roberts and Bob Vander Plaats) will be speaking this evening.  (UPDATE:  click here to listen to all three speeches.)  At about 6:08 p.m. the crowd finally settles into their seats and a prayer is said to start the program.

At 6:30 p.m. Branstad steps to the mic for his three minutes, opening with a tribute to past leaders of the Christian Alliance, like Ione Dilley.  “I think it’s all of our obligation to carry on their legacy,” Branstad said. 

Then, he sought to reestablish connections with the group.  “I want to remind you that we worked together on a lot of things,” Branstad said, listing state laws on statistical reporting of abortions, banning partial birth abortion, and requiring parental notification.

Branstad then talked about his wife, Chris, and their wedding date, which is the day of the Watergate break-in. “We have an infamous anniversary,” he said, to a few chuckles. 

Then he started talking about gay marriage and noting he signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law, the law which was overturned by last April’s Iowa Supreme Court decision.  “I was deeply disappointed that the Iowa Supreme Court struck that down.  I believe the people of Iowa deserve the right to vote…to restore one man/one woman marriage in our state.”

Branstad accused the top two Democratic leaders in the Iowa legislature of being “so arrogant as to say we are not going to let the people of Iowa vote on this issue.  We need to replace them with people that will respond.”

Branstad next told the crowd he and his wife ”have a deep Christian faith…I know we’ve made our share of mistakes, but I think it’s critically important that we ask Jesus Christ for foregiveness…I want you to know that I will do all I can to restore moral values in our state…and to make this a place we can be proud of again.” 

That is the end of Branstad’s speech.  Roberts is second in the order, starting out by lauding the  “traditional values that make our state strong and provide a legacy for a children and grandchildren that we all can be proud of.”

Roberts talked about his background as a church development director and a legislator for the past decade.

“I’m running for governor because Iowans deserve a lot better than what they’ve getting out of Chet Culver,” Roberts said, to applause.  “…I can and I will beat Chet Culver this November.”

Trish, his wife, stood up and waved to the crowd as Roberts introduced her.  Roberts next tells the crowd more about himself. “I am a conservative.  I believe in limited government and personal responsibilities….Marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman.” 

Roberts next talked about gay marriage:  “The people of Iowa have made it very clear they want to vote on the definition of marriage.”  Roberts then criticized Democrats in the Iowa House for voting to suspend the House rules last night for a vote on a proposal related to texting while driving, while not suspending the rules to consider a resolution which would set up a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment which would ban gay marriage.

Roberts returned to his electability argument, with a slight swipe at former Governor Branstad who critics say was recruited by the party’s power elite to run in 2010.

“I can beat Chet Culver,” Roberts said. “I am a new candidate who has stepped out and emerged from the people.  No one approached me to be a candidate…Together we can build a better Iowa…We can do a whole lot better than what we have currently in Chet Culver.”\

The third and final GOP gubernatorial candidate to speak was Bob Vander Plaats. “For all of you who drove in this fog to be here, I bring you good news…Republicans, Democrats, independnet, tea party people — they are united that this state needs new leadership.”

Vander Plaats then introduced his wife, Darla, to the crowd, saying the two ”met in church nursery school.”   He also told the crowd his son, Josh, was “wearing dad’s suit.”

Next up, an economic message from Vander Plaats, about “opening up this state for business…You do not open up this state for business by expanding gambling in the state of Iowa.”  The crowd applauded, and he continued: “I believe Iowa can be the next economic engine, but it needs to built on real economics…We have people of high moral, high character…now all they need is a governor to show leadership…and a governor to market this state as a right-to-work state, not a union shop state.”

Next up, the topic of education and an homage from Vander Plaats to parents who home school their children or send them to a parochial school. “f we’re going to be an economic engine, we’ve got to have world class education….it is the parent’s responsibilty to raise…and nurture the child, not the government’s…No more federal government in our classrooms.  That is not their constitutional right.”

Vander Plaats brings up the electability issue. “Ladies and gentlemen…,.poll after poll after poll shows our candidacy beating Chet Culver in a head-to-head competition….We no longer have to compromise in order to win and to lead.  We can be a principled conservative with a compelling vision.” 

Next, Vander Plaats mentions gay marriage and his vow to issue a stay ”on day one” that would put a stop to same-sex marriage licenses in Iowa.  He gets loudest applause of the evening for this oft-repeated declaration.

“Leadership is about core convictions and it’s about conviction and it’s also about who you surround yourself with.  My lieutenant governor will share my core convictions,” Vander Plaats said, a slap at Branstad who in 1990 chose as his running-mate Joy Corning, who supports abortion rights.

Steve Sheffler, head of the Iowa Christian Alliance, spoke to the crowd next, telling them, “Bill Clinton looked like a Sunday School picnic compared to the administration we’ve got now.”

He introduced Ralph Reed as a long-time friend and Reed took the stage at about 7 p.m.  “Are you ready to make history in Iowa in 2010?” Reed asked the crowd.  He joked about his fog-impaired travel to Des Moines.  “I made it as far as Minneapolis and I ran into Al Franken in the airport and I was so frightened…I jumped in a car.”

According to Reed, “Iowa is a critical, all important state for changing the direction of the country in 2010….Everybody knows that the eyes of America are going to be on Iowa in 2012 and you all play a critical and central role in choosing the president of the United States, but before we ever get to that, we’ve got an opportunity to begin that job…to end the Obama presidency this November.”

Reed called himself the “Dick Clark of conservative politics,” telling the crowd he was 78 years old.  “If you want to know how you can look that good at this age, it’s clean living…and I never, ever watch MSNBC.”  The crowd laughed and applauded.

Reed then offered a wide-ranging critique of President Obama, calling him the “most extreme and radical individual…ever.”

Reed told the crowd he was helping establish an Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition that would help educate God-fearing Iowans about how the candidates stand.  “We need to raise half a million dollars,” Reed said before volunteers began passing plastic containers through the crowd to collect donations.  “Tonight, when you give, we’re not a PAC and we’re not a candidate…Therefore, there is no limit to what you give here tonight.”

He said the National Faith and Freedom Coalition would match whatever is raised tonight in the hall.

At 7:21 p.m., Reed begins introducing Santorum to the crowd.  “This is a special time in America,” Santorum said to the crowd to open. “This is a turning point in America.”

But quickly Santorum addressed recent robocalls made into Iowa, questioning his pro-life bona fides.  Santorum told the crowd he’d had a 100 percent pro-life record during his years in the House and Senate, but then he told the crowd he had been reluctant to speak openly on the issue for several years.  “There are very few people who stand up..out of the foxhole and fight for life,” Santorum said, adding pro-life crusaders “pay a price” for taking a stand.

“Silence is not golden.  It’s yellow,” Santorum said, quoting former U.S. Senator Zell Miller.

Santorum described his years in the House and the first year in the senate thusly:  ”I was a busy man.  I was an ambitious man, but I dared not talk about it.  I never said the word abortion on the floor of the House of Representatives and the first year I was in the US Senate it was the same way…I was content to do that, work behind the scenes.”

Santorum then described how his life began to change in 1995.  He invited to a Bible study.  “I found a great church with my family and a wonderful leader of that church who inspired both Karen and I…and as I grew, I recognized the blind spots.”  His lack of public action on the abortion issue was among the blind spots, according to Santorum. 

Santorum discussed a bid in late 1996 to override President Clinton’s veto of a ban on partial birth abortion. Santorum read from a Washington Post article about that partial birth abortion debate in the Senate as well as from his own wife’s book about their baby, which died a few hours after delivery. 

As for those who accuse them of not being pro-life enough.  “I appreciate their zealotry and I will not criticize them….and look, I make mistakes…I endorsed Senator Arlen Specter for reelection.  That was against the advice of my wife….but I was wrong in retrospect.”  Santorum said he had done so because Specter had promised, as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to support President Bush’s nominees for the Supreme Court.

At 7:40 p.m., Santorum ended his defense on that topic and embarked on a discussion of the Obama Administration, dismissing it as being akin to European socialism. He called gay marriage “an attack on religious liberty.” 

“We’re at a critical junction in every aspect of our lives and what I say to that, ‘Thanks be to God that we’re here,’” Santorum said, talking about the Israelites of the Old Testament.  He suggested God was asking:  “Who will fight for me?”

He went back to the partial birth abortion issue, saying he was thankful Clinton vetoed the bill because it sparked a national debate about the procedure.  “For the first time since Roe v Wade, attitudes on abortion changed in America…because it became clear what abortion was,” Santorum said.

Santorum at 7:48 p.m. said he would close with some encouraging words.  “You’ll probably end up losing more than you’ll win when you talk about fighting this culture…but if you are faithful, you will end up making a difference.”

He quoted Mother Teresa: “God does not call on us to be successful.  He calls on us to be faithful.”  

He closed with this exhortation to the crowd: “You will stand up and say, ‘Here I am Lord.’”

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.