Christian conservatives are weighing their options as the campaign continues in Iowa for the Republican nomination for president. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson leads in Iowa polls among evangelicals. Some pastors are shaking their heads that a non-politician is in the lead.
Ron and Michelle Lovelein came to Des Moines Friday night from Eau Claire, Wisconsin for a forum sponsored by the Christian conservative group The Family Leader. They are keen on Ben Carson.
"We saw the movie Gifted Hands, and then the prayer breakfast in 2013," Ron Lovelein says, "with his boldness speaking from the heart about how to get back to being the godly nation that was founded."
For the Loveleins, it’s a plus that Carson’s never held public office.
"Amen to that," Michelle Lovelein says. "We don’t need any more career politicians or anyone with experience."
Many of the candidates have the right bonafides on social issues for Christian conservatives who also like a tough foreign policy stance, but for the Loveleins and others, Carson has other things going for him. That includes his race.
He shared some advice from his mother, and the crowd loved it:
"If you walk into an auditorium full of bigoted people you don’t have a problem, they have a problem," Carson says. "They’re all going to cringe and wonder if you’re going to sit next to them and you can sit wherever you want."
The Loveliens say Carson can appeal to black voters. But some religious leaders are mystified by the popularity of the non-politicians this year.
Jamie Johnson is the former pastor of Christ Church in Story City, and a Rick Perry backer until he dropped out.
“I have thrown my hands up in the air and shrugged my shoulders as to why so many evangelicals especially in Iowa are so hungry for someone who’s never been elected dogcatcher," Johnson says.
Johnson says it's also mystifying that Carson has not responded to numerous requests of evangelical leaders to meet with him, while Florida Senator Marco Rubio has begun courting pastors.
Religious leaders say Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and evangelical darlings from past campaigns Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum are all attracting support. Huckabee is one of the strongest on the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.
“Ignore the court, defy the court," Huckabee said to vigorous applause. "It is the president’s constitutional responsibility to not allow the judicial branch to overreach."
Melinda Wadsley is a home-school mom from Ames who likes listening to conservative talk on television and radio. She likes Ted Cruz’s voting record.
"I feel like Ted Cruz is a real conservative who can change things and do something different," Wadsley says.
But Carson backers point out that Cruz, like President Obama, has not served all that long in the U.S. Senate.
If the Family Leader Board of Directors can’t decide among the candidates, then it will fall to President Bob Vanderplaats to endorse, and that’s expected to be Ted Cruz.
Cruz got one of the biggest applause lines of the night with his critique of the president.
"When Barack Obama in San Francisco said we were bitter and angry and clinging to our guns," Cruz says, "well, we’re not bitter, we’re getting pretty angry, and he can’t have either our God or our guns.”
Meanwhile many evangelical pastors are urging their congregations to attend the caucuses as a moral duty.
Jamie Johnson routinely polled his small congregation about whether they voted or not.
"One-hundred percent of our adults were registered and turned out to vote in 2008, 2010, and 2014." Johnson says.
That helps explain why candidates are trying hard to attract that Christian vote.