Six Republican presidential candidates showcased their Christian religious beliefs this weekend as they appealed to the party’s evangelical base ahead of next year’s battle to unseat President Barack Obama. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum appeared to compete with each other, delivering harsh words about abortion and gay marriage.
Only Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, two moderate Mormons, stayed away from the discussion held at the First Federated Church here. “Family is defined as one man, one woman; no other definition will do,” insisted Michele Bachmann, who campaigns under the banner of the Christian right. But even though the positions of these ultraconservative candidates were already known, moderator Frank Luntz, a conservative guru of communications, asked the candidates to speak about religion in more personal terms.
Herman stifled a few tears when he talked about his cancer, which he overcame in 2006. “I will never forget ... walking out of the surgeon office after he just told us,” he said, overcome by emotion. “I will never forget I said ‘I can do this.’” Cain, a pizza mogul who is facing allegations of sexual abuse from several women, admitted to only one personal “failure.” He said he regretted not being present enough at home for his children because of his work as a businessman.
Santorum, a former senator, cried when he told a story about his daughter’s illness. On a lighter note, Texas Governor Rick Perry said he had wanted to be a veterinarian, but eventually chose to become a pilot in the Air Force. He said that he was “lost” after his return home from the military, and only his belief in God helped him get back on track.
Asked about moral values, Newt Gingrich, seen as a specialist for coining the right words, said he did not think “liberty means libertine.” “I don’t think liberty means absence of values,” he added. Echoing his view, Libertarian conservative Ron Paul said that “liberty doesn’t mean libertine, it means you have choices.” Building on the same theme, Gingrich blasted the Occupy Wall Street movement, suggesting to its members: “Go get a job right after you take a bath.” Nearly 3,000 people gathered in the great hall of the church, a huge concrete building on the outskirts of Des Moines, to hear the six candidates.
The candidates’ speeches, their confessions and the lack of squabbling among the debaters delighted the public. “I would have to say that basically it’s nice to know that the contenders are very God based,” Thom Moore, 34, told AFP. “Our country is faced with a situation where we’re losing our Christian background. It’s simply nice to know that they’ll put it in there after having such a jerk as president. I’m not a happy person about Obama.” Larry and Diane Cox 64 believe the candidates were “great.”
“They were intelligent, they were measured,” Diane added. “I just believe that any one of them would be excellent” at the White House. The debate called the Thanksgiving Family Forum was organised by three conservative Christian organisations: FAMiLY Leader, CitizenLink and the National Organistion for Marriage.
In contrast, the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State called Saturday’s meeting in Des Moines a “fundamentalist forum.” Winning in Iowa, which will be the first state to hold a Republican caucus on Jan.3, is crucial for the candidates.