Des Moines, Iowa
With roughly four months until the Iowa caucuses, Republican presidential hopefuls have flocked to the Hawkeye State this weekend for Saturday’s Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s fall banquet, with hopes of impressing the state’s conservative evangelical activists.
Nearly all the major GOP candidates will address the group with one big exception – former President Donald Trump, who sits comfortably ahead in the polls.
The Des Moines dinner presents an opportunity for the Republican candidates to court an influential voting bloc in Iowa, which holds the first contest of the 2024 race on January 15, and make an impression at an event where the former president isn’t monopolizing the spotlight.
In Iowa, Trump has more than twice the support of his closest competitor among likely GOP caucusgoers, according to the most recent Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom poll. But slightly more than half of likely Republican caucusgoers say they could be persuaded to support a presidential candidate besides their current first choice.
Several of the candidates already emphasize faith in their campaigns and prioritize evangelical voters, who they hope will help them deliver a win like conservative Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 Iowa caucus victory over Trump.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s ahead of the pack in challenging Trump’s lead, on Thursday launched a “Faith and Family Coalition,” touting the endorsements of more than 70 faith leaders in Iowa and other early voting states of New Hampshire and South Carolina. DeSantis, who has hit 56 counties as of Saturday in his attempt to visit all 99 counties in Iowa, held a “God Over Government” rally in Des Moines on Saturday afternoon, ahead of his appearance at the Faith and Freedom Coalition dinner.
Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and former Vice President Mike Pence have leaned into their Christian faith, attracting supporters who say they like how the two respectively are outspoken about their faith and that it’s important to them. Pence also has perhaps been the most vocal in the GOP field against abortion – an issue important to conservative evangelical voters – urging fellow candidates to support a federal ban on abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy as a minimum.
For former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, this visit is the first campaign swing in the Hawkeye State since she gained momentum in the first GOP primary debate. The former South Carolina governor held five campaign events in Iowa over the course of two days prior to the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
Vivek Ramaswamy, who also gained interest from voters following his performance at the debate, has been speaking to voters about his Hindu faith.
At an event in New Hampshire last weekend, Ramaswamy said he would be “fine with that” if evangelicals decide that the nominee must be a Christian, adding, “my job is not to convince anybody out of it.”
He added that he’s found “all of us, Jewish, Hindu, evangelical Christian, Catholic, we’re not that different in wanting people in office who are forthright, who are honest.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, Ryan Binkley and Perry Johnson are also scheduled to address the banquet.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has been a vocal critic of Trump, will miss the event in Iowa on Saturday, choosing instead to focus on New Hampshire.
The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition says it works to “educate and equip Christians” for civic action and to impact public policy in favor of limited government, lower taxes and social conservative policies.