We’ve heard it over and over again: the election’s about the economy. But that doesn’t mean social conservatives don’t have a chance to make an impact in Iowa.
The GOP field is still extremely fluid, featuring a surging — but fragile — Newt Gingrich a collapsing Herman Cain and a stagnant Mitt Romney, leaving plenty of time for religious GOP voters to coalesce behind one of the dark horses if they can catch some late breaking momentum.
Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum have mostly been stuck in single digits in the polls lately, but Iowa GOP consultant and Tea Party activist Ryan Rhodes thinks they each have a legit shot at consolidating the social conservative vote.
“That’s where the social conservatives are looking right now, ‘Do I go to Santorum or Bachmann?’” he said. “The question is will they split the vote and fracture it to a point where someone else can win or will people coalesce around one of them?”
The Family Leader, a leading social conservative group in the state, say they’ve narrowed down their endorsement to four candidates: Bachmann, Gingrich, Santorum, and Rick Perry. Evangelical leaders complained recently to Real Clear Politics that they’re having trouble settling on one candidate — especially given concerns about Romney’s flip flops, Gingrich’s personal life, and Cain’s scandals — and that none of the candidates has a firmly committed base of supporters.
Santorum and Bachmann have spent the most time in Iowa of the major candidates and each have a strong claim to socially conservative Christian voters, so a few strong endorsements might be able to give them some kindling for a last-minute run. In the meantime, neither is looking particularly strong, but if Cain withdraws or Gingrich’s bubble bursts, they may get a second look.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.