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GOP presidential hopefuls court Christian conservative voters at Iowa town hall

Political Reporter Charles Benson on why abortion was a key issue.
Posted at 9:57 AM, Sep 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-18 10:57:15-04

The first big test in the 2024 campaign is less than four months. That's when Iowa Republicans will hold their first in the nation caucus in mid-January.

This weekend, ten of the Republican presidential candidates made their pitch to more than 1,000 voters during a two-hour town hall in Des Moines.

Lifelong Iowa voter Phil Bechtel is still undecided. "I probably have three main issues on what they stand for: the economy, immigration and faith, family."

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis wants to win here. But like other GOP hopefuls, he's far behind former President Donald Trump in Iowa,

Trump was at a faith summit in D.C. Friday night but skipped Saturday's Faith and Freedom town hall , a chance to appeal to Christian conservatives, a key voting bloc in Iowa.

"As President I'm going to welcome pro-life policies across the board," said DeSantis.

Protecting the unborn immigration and the economy are topics covered in a series of one-on-one interviews with the candidates. Senator Tim Scott wants to see more family support for adoptions.

"One of the things that I know that works is for us to make sure that we protect adoption and crisis pregnancy centers," said Scott.

It was also a night to hit on other key issues as the candidates - all polling in the singles digits - prepare for the second GOP debate in 10 days.

Former Ambassador Nikki Haley says she's looking for common ground in the politically charged abortion debate- not confrontation.

"I'm going to fight on the side of life every chance I get, but I'm not going to demonize people in the process."

Former Vice President Mike Pence - who traveled to the Ukraine war zone in June to show support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky - believes the U.S. should play a role in the country's fight against the Russian invasion.

"I think it's absolutely in the national interest of the United States of America to give the Ukrainian military what they need to defeat and repel the Russian invasion," said Pence.

Vivek Ramaswamy was asked if he really wants to fully eliminate the FBI or reform it.

"I'm going to be very candid about this. I don't think reform of that agency is actually possible at this stage. It has 60 years of rot sitting under it."

Ramaswamy says he would shut down the FBI and shift 15,000 agents to the U.S. Marshal's office to address child trafficking.

Four of the five other candidates at the event failed to qualify for the first GOP debate in Milwaukee last month, Larry Elder, Perry Johnson, Ryan Binkley and Will Hurd.

Asa Hutchison met the metric for the first debate and was also at the Faith and Freedom town hall. Chris Christie did not attend.

An NBC poll in August showed that among evangelicals, Trump was leading with about 47% support to DeSantis, who was in second with 20%.

Saturday night's conversations with the candidates comes as Republicans wait to see who the nominee will be when they gather for their national convention in Milwaukee next summer.