Six major Republican candidates for president spoke candidly Saturday in front of several thousands of social and religious conservatives in Des Moines at an event sponsored by The Family Leader. With Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman noticeably absent, the six other candidates at the top of the Iowa polls discussed broad philosophical views on “faith,” “freedom” and “morality,” to politically polarizing issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. AP writes that the Thanksgiving dinner table discussion took on an uncharacteristically personal tone, with presidential candidates tearfully revealing formative chapters that shaped their faith:
"Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose recent rise has renewed scrutiny of his two divorces, admitted taking the advice of a recovering alcoholic to soothe the demons he had treated for years with his own national ambition.
Businessman Herman Cain, accused of sexually harassing four subordinates more than a decade ago, didn't address the accusations which he has denied vigorously. But he acknowledged not being home enough during his career's meteoric rise to the top of a national restaurant chain.
And former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who has campaigned aggressively for the support of evangelical conservatives in Iowa, tearfully confessed to have resisted loving his severely disabled daughter."
While the audience within the evangelical Des Moines church for most part remained civil, close to 100 protestesters outside the First Federated Church expressed their resentment to the opinions being discussed at the event, geared toward the key early primary state's large socially conservative GOP base. Jason Clayworth of the Des Moines Register writes that more than 100 people with varying political opinions on social issues and corporate greed protested outside The Family Leader Forum:
"Katie Poggemann and five of her friends – at least one who said she is a Republican – walked outside with homemade signs: 'Outlaw ignorance' read their signs.
'I have family members that are gay and this just pisses me off,' Poggemann said.
Around the corner were roughly 100 Occupy protesters. Three police were standing by as they chanted against corporate greed and for civil rights."
Clayworth notes that in addition to more liberal protesters, some holding signs outside the event expressed frustrations that the Republican candidates were shying away from vocally supporting pro-life and pro-traditional marriage positions. Clayworth noted that one protester held a sign that pictured a fetus, and another held a sign that read "Outlaw homosexual acts."
The event inside remained on lighter tone, with candidates noticeably less aggressive towards each other than in the previous 10 GOP debates thus far in the 2012 campaign. Instead of the rapid questions and timed answers of the televised debates, Saturday's forum was held around a large dining table on a stage with fall-themed decorations. Famed "Message Guru" pollster Frank Luntz moderated the two-hour event.
One time Iowa frontrunner Minnesotta Rep. Michele Bachmann described the pain and uncertainty of her parents' divorce when she was an adolescent.
"It is amazing to me how God uses those challenges to shape your life," Bachmann said of her parents' divorce. While sincere, Bachmann had been trending on Twitter in an unfavorable way. At the debate's start, Bachmann had a historical fumble out, saying that George Washington added “so help me God” to the oath of office.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who has meticulously targeted and seen success in Iowa when compared to his 2008 campaign, described his early life during the Depression in Pennsylvania. Paul also established the connection between his well-known libertarian philosophy and stance on social issues; "The goal of government isn't to mold society and mold people."
"The goal of government is to preserve liberty," said Paul.
In terms of policy, Texas Governor Rick Perry proposed a federal provision that would prevent gay couples from adopting children.
Ardent and established social conservative Rick Santorum was the most aggressive in trying to position himself during the event, according to AP; "Arguing that the president must be a cultural warrior pushing for social change that reflects the nation's Judeo-Christian heritage." Santorum called attention to his past campaigning in Iowa after an Iowa Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage in the state.
Newt Gingrich had the most memorable one-liner of the night. After an extended criticism of the political left and "Occupy Wall Street," Gingrich advised protesters to "Go get a job right after you take a bath."
A recent Des Moines Register poll showed 37 percent of likely GOP caucus participants described themselves as born-again Christians. A Rasmussen Reports poll released Thursday showed that Gingrich had jumped to a 32 percent support lead in Iowa. That’s a double-digit lead over Mitt Romney at 19 percent and the fading Herman Cain at 13 percent.