Which Candidate Will Get the Social Conservative Blessing?

Despite the talk in Washington about budgets, in Iowa it's all about religion

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For weeks we've been talking about the strict budget-cutting demands of the Tea Party-infused House Republicans as the debt limit negotiations dragged on. But it's a whole different world out in Iowa. The candidates for the GOP nomination in 2012 are fighting harder to prove which of them is the most authentic Christian conservative as the important August 13 Ames straw poll nears.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney signed a National Organization for Marriage pledge--so many pledges are circulating this year!--promising to push for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban gay marriage. But, as Slate's Dave Weigel points out, that's not all the pledge does. Romney also promises to

"establish a presidential commission on religious liberty to investigate and document reports of Americans who have been harassed or threatened or exercising key civil rights to organize, to speak, to donate to to vote for marriage..."

Weigel writes, "The 'harassment' being referred to, if we're taking NOM's recent legal activity and arguments into account, includes public records reports and journalism about who's donating to political campaigns. So this is a request for presidential candidates to give special protections to certain people based on their political beliefs."

Romney's sacred vow is especially jarring, Weigel notes, given his past tolerance for gay folks:

And maybe that history is why Romney is looking to shore up his social conservative cred. Rival Tim Pawlenty has opted not to sign the NOM pledge. Kathryn Jean Lopez called Pawlenty's refusal to sign the NOM pledge "bizarre." And, based on his public statements, she's right--late last month, he told CNN that gay marriage "devalues" straight marriage. But Pawlenty's emphasizing his evangelical roots in other ways. At the Ames straw poll, he'll feature Christian rock band SONICFLOOd. (And secular Dairy Queen blizzards.) Social conservatives make up between 40 percent and 60 percent of Iowa's Republican voters--maybe Pawlenty hopes straw poll voters will come for the frozen treat, stay for the guitar-backed spirituals, and cast their vote for him

Saturday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry hosts his explicitly Christian national call to prayer, which will be held in the 71,000-seat Reliant Stadium in Houson, which leaves a lot of room for the 8,000 RSVPs. Perry is seen as the one candidate who can knock off Romney as leader of the 2012 pack. The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins hasn't endorsed Perry, but he tells The Houston Chronicle's Kate Shellnutt, "I'm very encouraged by Gov. Perry... He actually shows some backbone." The governor has been calling Iowa activists in recent days.

These guys' biggest obstacle to grabbing the religious vote is Michele Bachmann. In late August, she'll speak at the awards dinner for the Florida Family Policy Council--a group that was key in passing the state's gay marriage ban in 2008, the Miami New Times' Kyle Munzenrieder notes. And not long after announcing her presidential candidacy, she told voters that her anti-abortion views were shaped by her own miscarriage.

The Wall Street Journal's Monica Langley and Patrick O'Connor write that Bachmann's support can be explained by her "emotional connection with her audience. The Journal makes her sound like an old fashioned southern preacher.

To understand why presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has surged in Iowa, watch when she is handed a baby. On a recent stop here, she took off her bracelet, dangled it before the infant and cradled him while he teethed on the pearls.

During another campaign appearance, Ms. Bachmann climbed down from the stage to take the hands of a woman who asked a question, holding them as she answered. Meeting a teenager with Down syndrome, the Minnesota congresswoman swept him up in a hug, then signed his T-shirt.

Not only does Bachmann have the evangelical substance--and the evangelical style.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.