Three of the six Republican presidential candidates who gathered for a forum in a Des Moines church on Saturday choked back their emotions after the moderator pressed them to “bare their soul” to the audience. Rick Perry patted Herman Cain’s shoulder as Cain talked about being diagnosed with stage four cancer.
“I will never forget, before my wife and I were about to get in the car I said, ‘I can do this.’ She said, ‘We can do this,'” Cain said, his voice breaking.
Perry responded with an “Amen” and the crowd applauded.
Rick Santorum spoke about his own failings as a father toward his baby daughter who suffers from a rare disorder.
“I decided that the best thing I could do was to treat her differently, to not love her because it wouldn’t hurt as much if I lost her,” Santorum said, adding he then prayed his daughter would live.
Newt Gingrich nearly wept while talking about a baby who had survived surgery to repair a rare heart defect, only to undergo surgery after surgery for the next six years to remove brain tumors.
“You look at that and you say to yourself, ‘All right, do I want some bureaucracy deciding that on a percentage basis this is not worth the investment?” Gingrich said, sniffling, before continuing: “Or do I want a country that cares about every life of that depth? That is what next year’s all about.”
Perry again offered an “Amen” as an affirmation.
About 3000 people were gathered in the evangelical Christian church in Des Moines to watch the forum in person. Perry talked openly about his faith and at one point vowed to cut foreign aid to China.
“The idea that we are sending billions of dollars to China who are aborting 35,000 children a day is immoral and wrong and has to stop,” Perry said.
Michele Bachmann talked about her conversion experience at the age of 16. “And that’s when I got on my knees, admitted I was a sinner. I gave my heart to Jesus Christ and I recognize that my actions just aren’t about this world. I’ll have to answer to God in the next world,” Bachmann said. “That’s a part, I think, of being president. When you take that oath, we’re answerable to God for the decisions that we make.”
Ron Paul joked that he’s proudest of being a medical doctor, because doctors are much better liked than politicians.
“There’s nothing more marvelous in medicine than sharing new life and having delivered thousands of babies,” Paul said. “And this is a very joyous profession.”
Audience members like Kevin Butters of Ankeny say they liked the discussion, but it didn’t get them closer to deciding which candidate to support in the Caucuses.
“I like Newt just because he seems to know a lot. He’s a very intelligent guy. He comes off really well,” Butters said. “But then I also like Bachmann and Santorum only because they seem to be (willing to say), ‘This is where I am, whether you like this or not. This is exactly who I am and what I’m going to be.'”
Karen Bode of Ankeny had hoped to learn more about the candidates.
“But also to say, ‘Oh, o.k. This one hits really right exactly what I believe and I didn’t get that,'” Bode said. “I probably became a bit more confused.”
Jack Ferguson of Newton seems to have narrowed his choices down to three.
“I like Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich,” Ferguson said after the forum. “But I’m afraid of a politician and so therefore, too, I might be looking at Cain because he’s not a politician.”
Clayton Bretey of Atlantic said he may be closer to choosing a candidate.
“They were all good. I was impressed with all of them,” Bretey said. “If any of them gets in, I think we’ll be all right.”
Mitt Romney was invited but did not attend. None of his rivals mentioned him, although the moderator joked about Romney’s absence — and Gingrich quickly criticized him for doing so. The event was organized by The Family Leader and was a fundraiser for the organization.