Leaders of Iowa’s religious right gathered here Wednesday night in an attempt to recalibrate the presidential race to focus on the social issues. A full crowd packed into the ornate Hoyt Sherman Place theater for the world premiere for Gift of Life, a pro-life film produced by Citizens United and narrated by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. The film was full of CGIed fetuses, heart-rending stories of adults whose parents had considered abortion, and Huckabee strolling on a beach wearing a blazer as children built sandcastles in the background.
The crowd sat enraptured throughout the movie, but the four Republican candidates who spoke before the film were the real draw. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum all happily stepped on stage to flaunt their pro-life credentials; Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Jon Huntsman turned down the invitation.
…An all-star cast of Iowa’s social conservative movement took to the stage before the presidential candidates, including popular drive-time talk host Jan Mickelson, Iowa Right to Life’s Executive Director Jenifer Bowen, and Tea Party kingpin Bob Vander Plaats. They seemed bereaved that social issues have not taken a more prominent place in the national debate and insisted that they were still the most important issues for the people of Iowa. “People are starting to link that the economy and the family are joined,” Vander Plaats told me after the event. “If you want to have limited government, you better have strong families. If you want to have a vibrant economy, you better have strong families.”
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…But on Wednesday, everybody seemingly had a personal story to relay on the evils of abortion. Iowa Right to Life’s Bowen told the tale of her own unplanned conception to teenage parents, whom she gleefully noted have now been married for nearly 40 years. Taking a lighter tone, Vander Plaats told of learning that he was an unplanned pregnancy. “We didn’t want Bob either,” Vander Plaats’ mother told his sister after she became pregnant unexpectedly. “Now what would life be without him?” The crowd chimed in with a chorus of “amens” at various points when Vander Plaats iterated that we’re all made “special in the image of God.” For her part, Bachmann offered a description of a miscarriage and the doctor handing her the dead child after the fact.