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Tim Pawlenty, left, in Pella, Iowa, with Bob Vander Plaats, president of a group called “Family Leader” (AP Photo)

Will GOP candidates out-devout each other in Iowa?

COMMENTARY | February 24, 2011

Tim Pawlenty visits, holds Bible studies, cites scripture, says he’s a ‘devout, open Christian.’ Coming soon are Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann. Can they match that? Candidates who want to succeed in Iowa may have to.

By Herb Strentz

If you want to capture the essence of the role of Iowa in selection of the Republican presidential nominee for 2012, it’s hard to beat a Des Moines Register newspaper headline on a visit to the state by former Minnesota Gov. Tom Pawlenty.

Pawlenty was in Pella, Iowa, the first GOP candidate to make a pilgrimage to an inquisition sponsored by Family Leader, a right-wing Christian — which is sort of redundant in Iowa these days — social advocacy group.

The Register headline said nothing about the economy, President Obama, or Democratic failings that used to be routine material for Republicans on the stump.

The headline: “Pawlenty calls himself/ devout, open Christian.” (Online, it was changed to “Pawlenty presents himself as approachable Christian in Pella.”)

The third paragraph of the story duly noted, “As governor, he held Bible studies and cited Scripture, he said, as he did Monday during the event at Pella Christian High School.”

Other GOP prospective nominees have been invited/summoned to appear before Family Leader with U.S. Rep. Ron Paul scheduled for March 7 and U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann for April 11. They may have to match Pawlenty’s credentials for being an open and devout Christian for that is what the Iowa GOP wants to advance to the nation at the Iowa caucuses, Feb. 6, 2012.

The point is, the Iowa GOP is controlled by rightwing Christians. The questionable wisdom of giving undue weight to the Iowa caucuses has been made before at this site. Also deserving attention are Iowa news media coverage of the evangelicals and their control of the party and its platform. While occasionally acknowledging the extent to which evangelicals control the caucuses, much of the Iowa news coverage glosses over the extent to which the far right dominates the Iowa GOP.

A heartening development on that front was a recent lengthy article by Mike Glover of the Associated Press, the most veteran of Iowa political reporters. Glover’s article asked “if the Iowa Republican party's shift to the right is scaring off some hopefuls and making the Iowa caucuses less competitive – and less important.”

That was a point of Nieman posts, and at least Glover got the topic in the open. Iowa GOP leaders, of course, denied that was the case.

Meantime, the scary nature of the Iowa Republican Party is reflected in proposals advanced in the legislature, particularly in the GOP-controlled House. (The Democrats have a one-vote edge in the Senate.)

One bill — declared dead and pulled back for possible revision after generating outrage — would have sanctioned discrimination by product- and service-providers if a person’s behavior or beliefs were offensive to one’s conscience.  Essentially, it would have legalized discrimination and gutted civil rights.  Another measure would outlaw abortions in the state, contrary to Roe v. Wade.

Even an issue over funding pre-school programs got in the mix when a Republican in the Senate, a self-described “student of history,” pointed out to his satisfaction that Nazi Germany and Communist China used such programs to indoctrinate children.

The unconstitutional nature of some of their offerings doesn’t bother the Iowa GOP. Indeed, six GOP legislators, who want to ban county recorders from issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples, also would ban the Iowa Supreme Court from reviewing their lawmaking.

And, after all, last November Iowa voters led by the religious right booted out of office three Supreme Court justices who were part of the 7-0 decision that found unconstitutional an Iowa law banning same-sex marriage. We did it once; we can do it again, the logic seems to be. The leader of the effort to oust the justices was Bob Vander Plaats — a chieftain the political and religious right in Iowa and the force behind Family Leader, a key screener of GOP presidential prospects.

Stay tuned for the next Iowa political rally/worship service.

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