Ten Republican Presidential candidates vied for the evangelical vote Saturday in Ames at a forum sponsored by the leading Christian conservative group the Family Leader.
Nearly three thousand people showed up, including 250 pastors. So far, no one has the important religious right vote sewn up.
There was a lot of agreement on display, against abortion and same-sex marriage, for religious liberty, and for a strong alliance with Israel.
Businessman Donald Trump was the outlier, who kept up his pattern of controversial statements. Trump says he doesn’t regret his recent comments against Mexican immigrants.
“No, not all,” Trump says. “ I’m very happy.”
Trump also questioned the war hero status of Arizona Senator John McCain. And he flubbed at least one answer, telling the religious audience he’s never asked God for forgiveness for his sins.
There were no such flubs from the other presidential hopefuls seeking to win the hearts of evangelicals. Texas Senator Ted Cruz earned the first standing ovation of the day, calling for total de-funding of Planned Parenthood.
“We will take this country back for our values,” Cruz says.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said Jesus Christ is his personal savior.
Former Arkansas Governor and ordained minister Mike Huckabee gave a religious twist to the issue of racial conflict.
“We don't have a skin problem in America,” Huckabee says. “We have a sin problem in America. That is the root and cause of racial strife.”
Questions from the audience strayed beyond religious themes. Recent Ames High School graduate Jared Larson quizzed neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
“Do you believe all members of our military should be armed in order to defend themselves?” Larson asked, referring to last week’s fatal shooting of Marines at a recruiting station in Tennessee.
“Considering what happened in Chattanooga, of course they should be armed,” Carson says. “Are you kidding me?”
A small business owner asked if it’s really possible to repeal Obamacare, now that it’s been upheld by the U.S. supreme Court.
“The simple answer is yes,” replied former Texas Governor Rick Perry.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham was one of the harshest on Hillary Clinton.
Out in the lobby, Healing Touch Books from Altoona was doing a brisk business in books written by the candidates.
ISU student Adam Neuhouser has already read Ben Carson’s book. He bought A time for Truth by Ted Cruz.
“I don’t know very much about Ted Cruz,” Neuhouser says. “So I’m looking forward to reading his book.”
Neuhouser calls Cruz a strong Christian man. And he likes Florida Senator Marco Rubio because of his strong support for Israel.
Another small business owner Greg Theroux of Des Moines has some reading to do.
“Today I bought Dr. Carson’s, Rick Santorum’s, and Bobby Jindal’s book,” Theroux says. “And I’m looking at several others too.”
So it appears that even some of the past darlings of the evangelical set including Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012 aren’t getting a free pass this time. One voter says he sees a lot of candidates who are of equal or better value.