In late 2007 and early 2008, David Lane, a conservative Christian activist based in California, helped put together a series of private events for evangelical pastors in Iowa and other early-voting states that were billed as public policy forums; they usually also included one presidential candidate, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
At the same time, Bob Vander Plaats, a longtime social conservative activist here, tapped into his own network of pastors and evangelicals as Huckabee’s Iowa campaign chairman.
Aided by the endorsements of many influential pastors, Huckabee went on to win the Iowa caucuses with huge support from evangelical Christians, dealing Romney’s 2008 candidacy a blow from which it never recovered.
This time, Lane and Vander Plaats are both emblematic and symptomatic of Romney’s problems.
Neither is formally aligned with any of the 2012 candidates, but both are making moves to create another groundswell of evangelical voters in Iowa that could again threaten Romney’s effort.
“Eighty to 90 percent of this constituency will not vote for Romney,” Lane said.
Family Leader forum
On Saturday, Vander Plaats will host a forum here with candidates to highlight abortion and other moral-values issues. Romney will not be present. Lane has again been hosting the private pastor events in key primary states, and next month he is helping to organize a public prayer and fasting event in Cedar Rapids. He says all of the GOP candidates will be invited.
More than likely, Romney will not be present, given what Lane has said about Romney’s religion.
The Lane event is modeled on “The Response,” the Christian rally in Houston that Lane helped organize in August. Texas Gov. Rick Perry was the featured speaker.
Vander Plaats now runs a social conservative group called the Family Leader, which will host the Saturday event, and says an endorsement could follow. Such an endorsement could make a critical difference for the candidate who gets it.
All the leading Republican candidates are scheduled to attend Saturday’s event except for former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr., who has effectively written off Iowa, and Romney. Romney aides did not say why he is not attending the forum but noted that he has attended numerous other conservative gatherings.
Evangelical Christians made up more than half of all the voters in the 2008 Iowa caucuses and will probably be the decisive voting bloc again in 2012. If the 2008 scenario repeats itself, the coalition of pastors and other influential Christian conservatives led by people like Vander Plaats and Lane would have enormous influence in deciding which candidate has the chance to stitch together a win out of the anti-Romney sentiment among evangelicals. Vander Plaats does not think it will take that much to win, arguing that it is possible to win the caucuses with much less than a majority of voters.