Iowa's Tea Party King

My article in the Prospect's October issue is up at the homepage. It's a long feature, but here's a quick version: After the Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, social conservatives at the local and national levels joined forces to attack the court. They used a once-obscure procedure of judicial selection to kick three judges off the bench, though the ruling on marriage still stands as law.

What's probably most interesting here at TAPPED is how this judicial election made Bob Vander Plaats -- the guy who led the campaign against the Iowa judges -- into a key figure for the 2012 presidential election. Once he succeeded in his efforts, Vander Plaats formed a group that has been vetting Republican presidential candidates. This summer, he received national attention when he asked them to sign a pledge that hammered home his normal litany of anti-gay rights positions, but he took things a little too far by suggesting that African American families were better off during slavery. Only Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum signed on. Despite the controversy over that particular provision in the pledge, Vander Plaats' remains one of the most coveted Iowa endorsements. His group is hosting a pre-Thanksgiving forum that four presidential candidates have already agreed to attend.

Most of the reporting for my piece was done back in June, but when I returned to report at the Ames Straw Poll in August, I was struck by how widely celebrated the 2012 candidates celebrated the ouster of the three judges. The night before the straw poll, Bachmann held her last event alongside the Values Voters Bus, and was joined by representatives of the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage -- two of the key groups that funded the campaign against the judges.

Then, the night after she won the Straw Poll, Bachmann told a crowd in Waterloo: "I learned here in Iowa how important marriage is between a man and a woman," she said. "You taught me that here, how important those values are, and you sent a signal when you failed to retain the three judges that decided to impose their view of morality rather than your view of morality. " It wasn't just Bachmann stumping against the judges. Rick Santorum, then-candidate Tim Pawlenty, and Newt Gingrich have all trumpeted the defeat of the Iowa judges (Gingrich played a particularly important role by funneling money to Vander Plaats' campaign).

Read the full history of Vander Plaats and that judicial election here.

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