The country's shaky economic condition has dominated the Republican presidential primary conversation, but social issues will still rule the day for a portion of the GOP's base. This voting bloc may sway the outcome in two of the first three nominating states—Iowa and South Carolina—and poses the greatest threat to Mitt Romney's cakewalk path to gaining the nomination.
Social conservatives finally got their first moment in the spotlight at a forum in Iowa over the weekend. The Thanksgiving Family Forum was hosted by Bob Vander Plaats, a major player in Iowa's evangelical scene who played an important role in organizing Mike Huckabee's winning 2008 campaign. All of the major figures of the campaign were in attendance except for Romney and Jon Huntsman.
Abortion rights got their first true airing of the campaign, and, to no one's surprise, the candidates jumped out do one another in their opposition to women's rights (of course ignoring that, according to current Supreme Court precedent, abortion is a constitutionally protected right). The temporarily surging Newt Gingrich argued that Congress could use the 14th amendment to implement personhood (a measure so extreme that even some in the anti-choice movement have even opposed it) across the whole country, and made the ridiculous claim that the bill could even be crafted so that it was not subjected to judicial review.
Herman Cain has struggled of late among social conservatives, less because of the growing record of sexual harassment allegations than questions of whether he is fully committed to restricting abortion rights for women. In a Fox News interview from last month, Cain said it's "not the government’s role" to decide whether an abortion is an appropriate course for an individual. He walked it back the next day, but is still struggling to convince Republican voters that he is a true believer. "I think that is causing a lot of pro-life people concern," Steve Scheffler, a leader of Iowa's social conservative movement, told me on Friday, "because most who are passionately pro-life think that most people don't have to think about how to verbalize where they're at. These seemingly contradictory statements need to be reconciled."
Cain appears to have fallen short on Saturday. Per Politico:
A man in the crowd asked if he would sign a bill outlawing abortion. His answer didn’t seem to satisfy the questioner, who asked a follow-up.
“If that legislation gets to my desk, I would absolutely sign it,” Cain said.
“Will you push hard to get it to your desk?” the man in the crowd asked back.
Cain said, “That would be one of” the things he would push, adding he thinks Roe v. Wade needs “to be overturned.”
That didn't satisfy The Iowa Republican, the state's main conservative blog. "He sounded OK in some spots, but not good enough to cover his abortion responses," they wrote.