Two men who announced at a morning news conference they’re backing Rick Santorum’s bid for the White House have ignited a firestorm within the state’s social conservative community that is likely to linger long after the Caucuses are over.
Bob Vander Plaats, a three-time candidate for governor, is president of The Family Leader, a group that has led the charge against gay marriage in Iowa. Chuck Hurley, a former state legislator, is the long-time president of The Iowa Family Policy Center, which is part of The Family Leader organization. Both are now backing Santorum. In speaking with reporters this morning, Hurley acknowledged the rift among religious conservatives in Iowa — and even publicly cited the vow from a fellow “cultural warrior” to burn Bob Vander Plaats in effigy for the way this decision came down.
“Today, I want to extend an olive branch to any and every overheated former friend in this movement,” Hurley said.
Vander Plaats said he “didn’t want to get into” the conflict.
“January 4 is also coming,” Vander Plaats said, a reference to the day after the Iowa Caucuses. “And on January 4, we need to get along again. We all need to come together.”
Hurley, though, wasn’t willing to let it go.
“Those sort of threats being breathed out need to be confronted and not just swept under the rug,” Hurley said. “Until that individual deals with his own anger problem, those sort of things will divide and they’ll hurt our opportunity to coalesce around a pro-family candidate and they’ll hurt our opportunity to win the Iowa Senate back.”
It seems a bit like airing “dirty laundry” in public to Craig Robinson who the Iowa GOP’s political director for the 2008 campaign.
“This is definitely something that should probably be settled privately instead of aired at the endorsement,” Robinson said during an interview with Radio Iowa this afternoon. “I just think it kind of distracts from the purpose of today’s press conference.”
Robinson runs www.TheIowaRepublican.com, a for-profit website. Back in the 2000 Iowa Caucus cycle, Robinson was working on the Steve Forbes campaign.
“I’m not surprised that there’s hard feelings,” Robinson said. “There’s always hard feelings in campaigns, but this one seems to be a little more out in the open.”
Steve Scheffler is the leader of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, another conservative group which hosted events with all the candidates — but decided not to endorse a single candidate.
“Through experience in working on three caucus campaigns as a staffer and thinking that I’m a pretty good salesman, at the end of the day an endorsement doesn’t really mean much, especially when candidates are quite similar on the issues,” Scheffler said this afternoon during a telephone interview with Radio Iowa. “And sometimes I think it causes some divisions and some hard feelings among people who say, ‘Why didn’t you endorse my candidate…who was just as good as the candidate that you endorsed?'”
Danny Carroll, the former president of The Family Leader’s board, has endorsed Michele Bachmann. During an interview earlier this afternoon, Carroll stressed the decision from The Family Leader’s board to remain neutral in the race.
“It’s not too surprising and really, probably even an indication of a broader fragmentation across the whole slate of candidates,” Carroll said.
Doug Gross, a Republican who has warned of the danger in a “camp Christian” dynamic in Iowa’s Republican Party, said this endorsement episode illustrates the “fracture” among Iowa’s religious conservatives.
“It helps Romney because generally the evangelical community appears to be united around only one thing and that’s to be certain that he doesn’t win,” Gross told Radio Iowa. “I thought there might be some desire might help them unite around one of their candidates, so as a result of them splitting up their negative feelings toward him, it enhances (Romney’s) chances.”