TOPICS > Politics

‘Need to Know’ Explores Evangelical Voters’ Sway Over GOP Candidates in Iowa

December 30, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Four years ago, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee beat Mitt Romney and the other GOP candidates in the Iowa Caucuses with strong conservative evangelical support led by a man named Bob Vander Plaats. "Need to Know" correspondent Rick Karr reports on the power of Vander Plaats and the religious right in the Hawkeye State's elections.

JEFFREY BROWN: As we heard in Judy’s conversation, four years ago, it was Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who beat Mitt Romney and all others to win the Iowa Republican caucus. His success came with the strong support of conservative evangelical Christians.

Tonight’s edition of “Need to Know” explores the power of the religious right in Iowa. This excerpt looks at the influence of one man in particular.

The correspondent is Rick Karr.

RICK KARR: Bob Vander Plaats was chairman of Mike Huckabee’s Iowa campaign in ’08. Then he led a campaign against three state Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of gay marriage, and ended up driving them out of office.

Now he runs an advocacy group for social conservatives called The Family Leader, and FOX News calls him a kingmaker in Iowa.

RICK KARR: The Los Angeles Times wrote that meeting with you is a prerequisite for any candidate who wants to compete in Iowa.


RICK KARR: Is that true?

BOB VANDER PLAATS, The Family Leader: I don’t know if it’s a prerequisite to meet with me, but I believe it’s the issues that our organization represents.

And our supporters are very, very sincere about these issues. They’re very interested in who is going to champion these issues. Our supporters are going to show up on caucus night.

RICK KARR: In November, The Family Leader hosted a forum for GOP hopefuls.

BOB VANDER PLAATS: We don’t need you to be Republican or Democrat, but we need you to be biblical.

RICK KARR: And the candidates lined up to tout their fealty to socially conservative positions.

NEWT GINGRICH (R): The left is prepared to impose intolerance and to drive out of existence traditional religion.

RICK KARR: They slammed abortion rights.

REP. RON PAUL, R-Texas: I have supported the amendment that defines life at conception.

RICK SANTORUM (R): As long as abortion is legal, at least according to the Supreme Court, legal in this country, we will never have rest.

RICK KARR: Gay marriage.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R-Minn.: The family is defined as one man, one woman. No other definition will do.

RICK KARR: And what they call Obamacare.

GOV. RICK PERRY, R-Texas: Obamacare has to go because it’s trying to tell us how to deliver health care in our states.

RICK KARR: The candidates came because conservative evangelical voters are organized and motivated. They turn up on caucus night. And endorsements from socially conservative groups like The Family Leader could turn one of them into the Mike Huckabee of the current campaign.

But Vander Plaats says none of them ended up stealing the hearts of Iowa’s conservative evangelicals.

BOB VANDER PLAATS: We had six candidates at our Thanksgiving Family Forum. And I think it was my wife afterwards who said, “You know, Bob, if we could take those six and put them in a blender and just have the strengths come out and have one candidate.”

And I said, “Darling, you’re getting awfully close to cloning.”


BOB VANDER PLAATS: But we would have a perfect candidate. And I think what we’re realizing today, there is no perfect candidate.

JEFFREY BROWN: A postscript: Bob Vander Plaats ended up endorsing Rick Santorum. There were published reports last week that Vander Plaats sought up to $1 million for his endorsement, allegations he vigorously denied.

“Need to Know” airs on most PBS stations tonight.