Will Iowa Conservatives Sit Out the Election?

Iowa's much-vaunted evangelical conservative base is nowhere to be seen. After propelling Mike Huckabee to the top of the field in the last presidential nomination contest, the common assumption among political pundits has been that the state's Christian right would coalesce around a similar candidate again this year. But, less than five weeks out from the caucuses, all of Iowa's evangelical leaders are still holding off on making a decision.

Just yesterday, the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's president announced that the organization would not endorse any candidate for 2012. "I believe that it is the role of our members and supporters to endorse the candidate of their choice," Steve Scheffler wrote in a press release. "There are many strong conservative candidates running and while none of them are perfect, our October 22nd Banquet highlighted for me just how blessed we are to have so many strong pro-life, pro-family, pro-national security and pro-freedom candidates running for the GOP nomination." That the Coalition itself will remain neutral in order to avoid alienating the eventual nominee seems reasonable enough, but it's a surprise to see Scheffler—one the key actors in building up the movement over the past decade—avowing no stake in who the nominee is. But he's following a trend of prominent Iowan Republicans. Governor Terry Branstad and Senator Chuck Grassley (both hailing from the more moderate wing of the party) have ruled out endorsements, and the Rep. Steve King, the state's most visible elected official aligned with the Tea Party, hasn't backed any candidate.

It's the same story for non-party actors. Four years ago, radio host Steve Deace used his platform on the state's most popular conservative talk station to boost Huckabee's campaign. This time around he's been public about the candidates he dislikes—Romney of course, but Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich as well—but hasn't indicated support for any of the others.

Bob Vander Plaats has been listed as one of the most important possible endorsements and spent all year vetting the various candidates. All save Romney and Huntsman have traveled to Iowa to kiss his ring, and they recently gathered for a pre-Thanksgiving forum hosted by his group, The Family Leader. But as the vote looms, Vander Plaats has hesitated on making an official endorsement. “I don’t have clarity yet," he told The Iowa Republican yesterday. "And if I don’t have clarity, I would imagine that neither do 80 percent of Iowa caucus goers.” His endorsement will still carry weight whenever he makes up his mind, but it might do little to sway the actual outcome as the window before voting continues to close.

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