Potential GOP presidential candidates visit Iowa

By MIKE GLOVER
The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 1:05 AM

WAUKEE, Iowa -- Several Republicans mulling 2012 presidential bids descended on Iowa Monday to test their strength among social conservatives who hold the key to the state's lead-off caucuses.

Whether any of them manages to stand out from the crowd hints at how a scattered and as-yet undeclared GOP field will eventually shake out. Five of the potential candidates took the stage for a forum at a church in the Des Moines suburb of Waukee, hoping to set themselves apart.

"I do believe we have an extraordinarily fundamental choice to make in this election," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of those who participated. "We are at a crossroads that we cannot hide from: What kind of country do we want to leave to our children and grandchildren?"

The forum hosted by The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition also included former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, businessman and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer.

For the first time in the 2012 election cycle, several potential contenders for the White House shared a stage to make their case to hundreds of activists. All five argued that they can be best trusted to follow the conservative path, going out of their way to talk about religion in a state where social and religious conservatives play a heavy role in GOP politics.

"The American dream is under attack, that's the bad news," Cain said. "The good news is we are on the attack. We have got to lead this nation from an entitlement society to an empowerment society. We must defend those principles this nation was founded on."

Cain said he had no plans to run for president, but "was compelled" because the nation was on the wrong track.

Meanwhile, Gingrich said he was "in the process of exploring" a presidential bid. "We're all going to have to be on the same team after this is over," he said.

Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer got some of the loudest response with his folksy speech. "I'm the only person thinking about running for president who has been elected as a senator and a governor," he said.

Pawlenty quoted heavily from the Bible. "We need to be a nation that turns toward God, not one that turns away from God," he said. "Our freedom comes from our creator."

Santorum praised the Faith and Freedom Coalition, saying the group "means a lot to me."

"This is a group that I've been attached to at the hip for long, long years," he said, urging a tighter focus on social issues.


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