GOP Contenders Court Evangelicals at Huckabee Forum

20 days before the all-important Iowa Caucus, four of the GOP Presidential hopefuls took turns touting their Pro-Life credentials at a Des Moines forum hosted by former Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Speaking before a crowd of more than 1000 people, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN), Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former Sen. Rick Santorum, appealed to Iowa’s conservative voters, promising to de-fund Planned Parenthood and lambasting President Obama as the most “pro-abortion” President in history.

The anti-abortion film “The Gift of Life” was then premiered for the audience. The movie is a joint project between the conservative non-profit Citizens United and Mr Huckabee, who won the Iowa Caucus in 2008.

While Governor Huckabee said the event was not for endorsing any of the candidates, he did seem to give favor to those who attended telling the crowd, “I do want you to note that there were four candidates who cleared their schedules and made this a priority event.”

Conservative voters, and more importantly, evangelicals have a powerful voice in the Republican party here. And the issue of abortion is front and center in helping them make a decision on how to vote.

Tonight was an opportunity for Mrs Bachman and Mr Perry, two candidates with strong conservative backgrounds, to regain the backing of a group they desperately need to win on January 3rd. Mr Santorum has argued he is the most effective conservative leader, but so far voters have not responded to his message.

For Mr Gingrich, it was a chance to solidify his standing atop the polls with the help of evangelicals despite being married three times and converting to Roman Catholicism, which typically has not resonated with that base.

Congresswoman Bachman was the first to speak, going after the FDA for recommending the morning after pill, or Plan B, become available to all women of child bearing age. “We just saw several weeks ago that his Administration was willing to put the pill… in grocery store isles where little girls could find it next to bubble gum and next to M&Ms.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services Sebelius, however, rejected the recommendation. President Obama said he agrees with that decision.

Rick Santorum received the warmest welcome, and the only standing ovation of the night. Speaking the longest, he defended his stance on abortion, and criticized his opponents, saying “This is why I have a problem with some of the folks running for office these days when they say that life beings at conception. It’s like I say I believe the sun rises. Why would you believe something that’s a fact? It’s a scientific fact.”

Newt Gingrich focused his speech mostly on policy and legislation if he became President, promising a three-pronged attack: allowing doctors to refuse to perform procedures against their religious beliefs, promising no federal money will pay for abortions, and pursuing a bill that says life starts at conception.

The Hyde Amendment already bars federal money from being spent on abortions, although conservatives contend Healthcare reform by the Obama Administration has blurred that line.

Gov. Perry emphasized his record, saying Texas had successfully de-funded Planned Parenthood, leading to 12 clinics closing. “Imagine the difference that you can make, not just in one life, but in two. Imagine the great joy that she may experience one day as she tucks her little one into bed.”

Noticeably absent tonight were Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and former Gov. Mitt Romney who were invited, but declined due to scheduling issues. Both expressed their support for the forum.

Jake Gibson is a producer working at the Fox News Washington bureau who covers politics, law enforcement and intelligence issues.