Five Republicans who say they’re pondering the idea of running for president spoke to about 2000 Iowa conservatives tonight. The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event was held in a large church in the Des Moines suburb of Waukee and most of the men sought to directly connect their own faith to their political philosophy.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told the crowd fundamental political principles are based on morality.

“We need a political change so deep and so profound that nothing we have seen in our lifetime is comparable to the level of depth that we have to go to get this country back on the right track,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich told the crowd he’s “not yet” a candidate for president, but is “exploring” the idea. Gingrich also stressed the importance of electing Republicans at all levels of government, not just to the federal government. 

“We need, for the first time in 80 years, to replace the governing structure of the left with a governing structure that is center-right,” Gingrich said.

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said the country needs leaders who don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk when it comes to faith.

“We need to know where our help comes from,” Pawlenty said. “We need to be a country that turns toward God, not a country that turns away from God.” 

Pawlenty warned that Republicans will have to have “extraordinary commitment” if the party is to win the White House back in 2012.

“It ain’t gonna be easy, but if prosperity were easy, everybody in the world would be prosperous,” Pawlenty said. “And if security were easy, everybody in the world would be secure. And if freedom were easy, everybody in the world’d be free.”

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum joked that his kids used to think his first name was “Ultra” because he was repeatedly referred to as an “ultra-conservative” senator in the newspapers.

“Once you stick your head out on the social issues,” Santorum said, “once you fight for the moral fabric of our country — you’re labeled.”

Toward the end of his speech, Santorum warned his fellow conservatives that focusing solely on economic issues would be disastrous for Republicans in 2012.

“It’s vitally important to create jobs. It’s vitally important cut our deficits.  It’s vitally important to control the size and scope of government. It’s vitally important to repeal ObamaCare, but what’s the mission?” Santorum asked. “…We have to paint a picture of an America that believes in you again.”

Former Godfather’s C.E.O. Herman Cain said his “journey” toward running for president started the day his grandchild was born in 1999. 

“The American dream is under attack.  That’s the bad news,” Cain said. “The good news is we are fighting back.” 

Cain, who is a radio talk show host, ended his speech with what he described as “breaking news” for President Obama.

“The United States of America is not going to become the Unites States of Europe,” Cain said, “not on our watch!”

Former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer (ROH-mer) described himself as a “church-goin’ Methodist boy” who has thought for years about running for president on a platform of campaign finance reform. 

“I ask you to tell people that a seasoned warrior against the special interest money is in the race,” Roemer said. “I ask you to tell them he is old enough to know what to do and young enough to get it done.”  Roemer, who is 67 years old, vows to limit campaign contributions to $100 or less.

Roemer also promised to end ethanol subsidies if he’s elected.

“Ethanol takes four rows out of 10 of every corn field. Four rows out of 10 that doesn’t go to hungry people, or necessary people. This is not right,” Roemer said, getting scattered applause from the crowd. 

None of the other candidates at the Faith and Freedom Coalition event spoke of ethanol.  Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition president Steve Scheffler is also the Republican National Committeeman from Iowa.  He declared tonight’s forum the opening event of the 2012 presidential campaign.

“We want to tell all of our friends in all the other 49 states: don’t get cute because we are going to be first,” Scheffler said, adding: “That’s the way it is.”  Officials in Florida and Michigan are hoping to move those states’ primaries ahead of the Iowa Caucuses in early 2012.

Listen to all five speeches here.