Church-going supporters of the Republican party in the US state of Iowa could shift the direction of the nomination contest when they come to vote, as front-runners pay multiple visits hoping to win their support in the 2024 presidential contest.
Evangelicals make up a quarter of all voters in Iowa, which is always the first state in the US to vote on who should represent each party in the race for the White House.
Last Tuesday, Florida governor Ron DeSantis addressed 500 people at a church in the capital Des Moines, at the start of his campaign tour visiting three states in four days.
Former president Donald Trump, who once reportedly called the White House "a real dump", has launched a re-election campaign. He had lunch with dozens of faith leaders in Des Moines this week, which he described in glowing terms. “They were very thankful for what I’ve done on Roe v Wade, obviously”, Trump told reporters after the meeting, referring to his Supreme Court nominees’ decision to end a constitutional right to abortion.
“They’re giving me total support”, he went on to claim, “We have a real ‘love-fest’ with the faith leaders of Iowa, and the faith leaders throughout the country”, he added with no evidence, as the meeting was closed. “We have to protect religion. We have to have religious liberty … which are two words which are not being used very much anymore”, Trump went on to say, “and we have to bring it back.”
Despite losing against Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 contest and being the first former president in American history to face criminal charges, Donald Trump maintains a double-digit lead over DeSantis. Mr Trump faces a series of legal investigations, including by the US Justice Department, into his handling of sensitive information.
He denies any wrongdoing, although 325 classified government documents were recovered from his Florida home by the FBI last summer. He recently entered a not-guilty plea in New York, after being charged with a criminal offence over hush money payments made to a porn star. And the state of Georgia is investigating him over alleged efforts to try and overturn the 2020 presidential election results.
Reports from Des Moines said Mr Trump was received by cheers and a standing ovation from the faith leaders at the meeting. But it’s not clear whether this will translate into voter endorsement as the former president hopes, with suggestions many are keeping an open mind. One Christian Republican leader, Bob Vander Plaats of The Family Leader, tweeted afterwards: “According to reports, great week for @GovRonDeSantis. Not so much for the former President @realDonaldTrump”. He added the hashtag ‘#IowalsWideOpen’.
“Donald Trump did very well with evangelicals [in 2016]”, commented Chair of Republicans Abroad, Gren Swenson about Trump's presidency. “So there is a point where the evangelical movement, the Christian movement, basically said, ‘I don't really care about his personality, I'm not electing my spiritual supervisor, I want someone who can get results for things I care about’,” Swenson told Premier Christian News.
Swenson says he expects other Republican Christians to fare well in Iowa, including Donald Trump’s former Vice-President, Mike Pence, who is set to announce next week that he will enter the race.
“He’s a little different. He comes with real historical conservative credentials, as well as the fact that he's a well-known evangelical Christian. So he might have a real advantage in Iowa specifically”, he commented.
“Mike Pence is only polling at 5%, nobody really thinks that he has a chance. But if you can win Iowa, you can get some momentum there”, Swenson concluded.