The Bob Vander Plaats Primary

It is said that it takes three king-makers to make a king. Kerry Howley reports from Iowa one of the men who will help crown a winner in the Iowa GOP caucuses, social conservative Bob Vander Plaats:

Actual Republican caucusgoers will not merely be "Iowans" but a small group of highly informed, older, mostly evangelical Iowans with the time and inclination to coax other highly informed, older, mostly evangelical Iowans toward a preferred candidate. They will be the kind of Iowans who have shown up at the Pizza Ranch in Sigourney on this bitterly cold day to hear Bob Vander Plaats talk about marriage.

"If you're gonna void one-man, one-woman marriage, why would you limit it to same-sex?" Vander Plaats asked. He wore the only suit in the room. Women were dressed in turtlenecks under sweatshirts; men, in collared shirts with pen-stuffed pockets. There is a wagon wheel and a cowboy boot nailed to the wall and, right behind Vander Plaats, a plastic wreath dotted with miniature Conestoga wagons. "Why not open it up! Bisexual, polygamy, multiple women? Why not? Either you're going to stand for something or you're gonna fall for anything."

Vander Plaats is a 47-year-old former high-school principal who fails, once every four years, to win the governorship. But he is also Iowa's most prominent social conservative. He is the man who led Mike Huckabee through the state's Pizza Ranches in 2008, just before the chronically underfinanced candidate surprised the rest of the country by winning Iowa. He is the man who helped ride three state Supreme Court justices off the bench last year, after they decided in support of gay marriage. "He's already a gatekeeper," says David Yepsen, the legendary former political reporter for The Des Moines Register. "He's got a base and an organization."

Read the full story in The New York Times Magazine.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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