The leading figure in Iowa's conservative movement is set to unveil a pledge that would pigeonhole the 2012 Republican presidential candidates into defined positions on a host of social issues. It will include
a 14-point list of pledges ranging from the personal (staying
faithful to one's spouse) to broader policy (keeping the size of the
government small), but the heavy emphasis is on forcing the candidates to codify their opposition to same-sex marriage.
Most of the candidates vying to win the Iowa caucuses will likely sign the new pledge. It's author, Bob Vander Plaats, is a thrice-failed gubernatorial candidate who turned himself into the conservative kingmaker of the 2012 Iowa caucuses by leading a campaign to oust three state Supreme Court justices from the bench last fall due to their unanimous 2009 decision that struck down Iowa's ban on same-sex marriage. The Hill listed Vander Plaats as one of the 10 most coveted endorsements for the presidential candidates, right alongside Sarah Palin and Chris Christie.
Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain have all stopped by Iowa in 2011 to appear alongside Vander Plaats. They'll each likely sign the pledge in their quest to gain his endorsement and tap into the network of Iowa activists he has cultivated. But in forcing the candidates to take these defined positions, Vander Plaats and Iowa's social conservatives are driving the mainstream candidates farther away from Iowa. Jon Huntsman has said he will skip the state entirely, and Mitt Romney is only nominally competing. Neither candidate wants to move to the right and take positions that would alienate voters in the general election. For the candidates that sign Vander Plaats' pledge, taking a strong stance opposed to same-sex marriage might help during the early caucus and primary states, but those policy pledges will come back to haunt them if they win the nomination and need to appeal to independent voters in the general election.