Christian groups Focus on the Family, NOM to host Iowa candidate forum

The weekend before thanksgiving, Colorado Springs-based evangelical group Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage will host a Republican presidential candidate forum in Des Moines centered on social issues. Focus on the Family staffer Tom Minnery said the hosts of the event don’t plan to “get into theology as such” because there wouldn’t be enough time for the candidates to “solve theological questions.” Primary campaign frontrunner Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, has yet to commit to the event.

In an appearance at CitizenLink, Focus on the Family’s political media outlet, Minnery hoped Romney would come around.

“I believe Romney is having some difficulty with evangelical Christians…. At the value voters event a pastor hit upon his Mormonism, called it a cult and suggested that such a person should not be president. That’s pretty rough language and I can see how Gov Romney might be hesitant to come back into an evangelical atmosphere like this. So we will make the event very respectful.

“We’re not getting into theology as such because we are not going to solve theological questions in the short time we have. We want to get into the underlining ways in which a fervent and vibrant belief in God impacts decision-making upon a president. That’s what we’ll be getting at.”

The event is technically being sponsored by CitizenLink and The Family Leader, Focus on the Family’s Iowa policy group headed by controversial anti-gay state politico Bob Vander Plaats.

Vander Plaats, the man behind the move to oust the Iowa justices who in 2009 overturned a ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional, has also been pushing a 14-point candidate marriage pledge, which includes a promise to ban pornography in the country and describes homosexuality as a health risk. Romney refused to sign it, dismissing the exercise as “undignified and inappropriate.”

The Des Moines candidate forum is scheduled to be held November 19 at the First Federated Church. The main moderator will be Frank Luntz.

Minnery called Luntz an “exquisite asker of questions.” CitizenLink Media Director Stuart Shepard described Luntz as the Fox News pundit who uses dial meters to gauge realtime voter responses to the candidates. “He’s that guy,” said Shepard.

Luntz is also the Republican Party talking-point spinner who advised GOP candidates last year to discredit proposed Wall Street regulation by referring to it as a “bailout.” He’s also the man who advised George W. Bush to reframe “global warming” as “climate change” to make it sound less threatening.

If the CitizenLink introduction to the coming event is any measure, there aren’t likely to be a lot of tough questions posed, at least not to the non-Mormon attendees, even on the glaring social issue of sexual harassment, which has dominated this week’s campaign news.

“Are you going to hit Herman Cain with tough questions about what’s been in the headlines?” Shepard asks Minnery. “No we aren’t,” says Minnery, assuming that Cain will still be in the race in ten days. That matter will surely be covered elsewhere, he says.

“We’re wishing [Herman Cain] the best. The truth will come out and we hope it’s a truth that will not hurt his campaign.

“It’s amazing how that man has caught the imagination of so many voters. He’s bold. He’s upbeat. He has business experience that’s very solid…. It would be a deflation of a lot of enthusiasm were he to be lowered in the polls because he’s not able to respond well to these allegations.”

Shepard takes that line a step further.

“One of the fascinating things about it… We’re hearing some things about what may or may not have happened. He is saying nothing happened. We have at least one accuser who finally after a week and a half put a fact into the story. For a week there were no facts at the heart of this, there were just these hints at what may or may not have gone on…

“American people appear to have a certain cynicism about the way the mainstream media goes after these stories. Rasmussen Reports did a poll after this. [Cain’s] poll numbers are up. That’s a fascinating perspective on the American people. We have just seen enough of this from the mainstream media.”

“Well we have,” Minnery said. “There’s a real hunger for a candidate such as Herman Cain to prevail.”

For the record, at least four women as of Wednesday had accused Cain of harassment. Sharon Bialek, a one-time employee of the National Restaurant Association, was the first woman to go public. Two other women received settlements in response to claims Cain harassed them when he was head of the association. One of those two women, Karen Kraushaar, is a spokesperson at the Treasury Department and a Republican voter. The identity of the other woman paid by the association has yet to leak to the press. Cain called the payments made to the women by the association– reportedly tens of thousands of dollars– “agreements” not “settlements.”

That these are credible accusations and that they are beginning to credibly establish a pattern of behavior is as clear as is the fact that Cain has been struggling to tell the truth about what he knows of the allegations. It’s also worth noting that, as Shepard is surely aware, at least two of Cain’s accusers have been barred from speaking about their experience by the legal arrangements tied to the payments, which is why they have been slow to “put a fact into the story.” More facts are being put into the story by the hour.

*Edit note: Carrie Kintz, media coordinator at CitizenLink, writes to underline the point that Focus on the Family is not directly hosting the candidate event in Des Monies: “The organization hosting the event with NOM is CitizenLink. We are Focus on the Family’s advocacy affiliate,” she said in an email. Focus on the Family is a nonprofit and, for tax reasons, can’t perform direct political advocacy.

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