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October 18th, 2011

FAMiLY Leader Forum Positioned To Play A Major Role In Fluid Caucus Cycle

The seasonal change that we have been experiencing in recent weeks symbolizes more than just the fact that we are in the midst of the fall season in Iowa. In a caucus year, the newly barren trees and harvested fields also mark a time in the presidential race when Iowans begin to line up behind the candidate of their choice.

There are only 78 days until Iowans caucus, and never before has a caucus contest been this wide open. While the fluidity of the race has been apparent for months to those who watch the national polls, what’s different in this presidential caucus cycle is that the state’s much talked about and analyzed social conservative base has yet to coalesce around a particular candidate.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the social conservative vote in Iowa remaining fluid. The first is the economy. Every poll has shown the number one issue on voters’ minds is the economy. While social issues are still being discussed, the sad state of America’s economy remains the paramount issue for all voters.

Another factor is uncertainty of the field of candidates. Throughout the spring and summer, the media seemed to have love affair with those rumored to be interested in running instead of those who had actually announced their intentions. It’s hard for a second tier candidate to gain traction when an over-hyped, over-reported on, may-be candidate steals the spotlight for months on end.

Only now that the field of Republican candidates is set can potential caucus goers being to truly figure out whom they support. For those candidates who are trying to earn the support of the state’s ample social conservatives, the next month will be a critical time for their Iowa campaigns.

It will begin this Saturday at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s (IFFC) cattle call. Six Republicans seeking the nomination will share the same stage. Only Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, both of whom have tried to undermine Iowa’s First-in-the-Nation caucuses, will not be there.

While the IFFC event will mark the beginning of a critical period for those actively campaigning in Iowa to earn the support of the state’s social conservatives, it’s The FAMiLY Leader’s presidential forum on November 19th that looks like it could be the event that could determine whether any candidate will be able to unite the social conservative vote behind his or her candidacy like Mike Huckabee was able to do four years ago.

In a recent interview with, Bob Vander Plaats, the high-profile leader of The FAMiLY Leader, provided some of his thoughts on what he hopes to accomplish at the November 19th forum. Vander Plaats, who is not one to be content to sit on the sidelines, also shed a little light on what his role in the caucus process may be after the forum is completed.

No Hangover from the Pledge

For months, Vander Plaats has insisted that The FAMiLY Leader would hold a presidential forum. While Vander Plaats was able to get the candidates to participate in his candidate lecture series, getting the candidates to agree to participate in a multi-candidate forum is a different animal. That task was made more difficult when The FAMiLY Leader’s candidate pledge was criticized and thus was only signed by two candidates, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum.

Despite the blowback from this summer’s pledge, The FAMiLY Leader was still able to pull off the event. “These issues we take very seriously. Even though we got blowback from the pledge, what was funny to me was that the blowback was initiated by Think Progress, [an organization] we have nothing in common with,” Vander Plaats told

Vander Plaats then said that the candidates, “know our heart,” and while not everyone signed the pledge, candidates like Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain affirmed the pledge in their own words. Vander Plaats also highlighted the groundwork that his organization has laid before the forum.

“We set the stage during our 99 county tour early this year. The lecture series gave the candidates an opportunity to take the stage. The pledge was designed to identify where the candidates stood on the issues. And now the forum will help answer why they believe what they believe,” Vander Plaats stated.

The Timing

“We chose November 19th specifically because my experience in the caucus process is that around the Thanksgiving timeframe, that’s when people start breaking,” Vander Plaats told One of The FAMiLY Leader’s goals for the event is to have faith leaders from all 99 counties at the event, as well as other social conservative activists. Vander Plaats added, “We are trying to get the people who can make it happen for a candidate in the audience for the forum.”

What Should People Expect?

If you like to see the candidates go after one another, then The FAMiLY Leader’s forum isn’t going to be to your liking, or at least Vander Plaats hopes so. “I don’t want this to be a debate where Bob hits Craig, Craig hits Bob. We want this to be an adult Thanksgiving dinnertime discussion,” said Vander Plaats. “The candidates will be seated around a u-shaped Thanksgiving table that will face the audience. So the audience can see the candidates, but if a candidate wants to address or take issue with something that someone else says, we want them to look at that individual when they do it,” he added.

Vander Plaats will be the host for the evening, but pollster Frank Luntz will serve as the moderator. When asked if Luntz would be a referee, Vander Plaats responded by saying, “I hope he’s not a referee. To me, if he is a referee, that’s kind of a mark on the candidates. His goal is to engage the audience and candidates on questions that we need to be asking.” Vander Plaats also hopes that Luntz will get the candidates off of their stump speeches.

Vander Plaats also admitted, “When we approached Frank to moderate the event, he said, ‘I want to do this.’ I think he will be outstanding at it. It seems like Frank has spent his entire life building up for this type of a forum. If Frank does his job well, this will be the most pivotal forum in the entire nominating process.”

There will also be three ten-minute segments that Luntz will not moderate. Those segments will allow the three sponsoring entities, The FAMiLY Leader, National Organization for Marriage, and Citizen Link, to ask the candidates questions.

What Does The Forum Mean To The Campaigns?

When asked what kind of impact an event like this would have had for Mike Huckabee four years ago, Vander Plaats, who led Huckabee’s caucus campaign, said, “Huckabee would have won bigger. It would have helped him identify more key organizers. If he had a Del Thacket hosting a worldview seminar with five hundred or a thousand faith leaders and then he got to go side by side with his peers in a forum like this, I think he just blows the competition away.”

Vander Plaats on The Candidates

Who He Expects To Do Well:

Newt Gingrich: “I’ve always been amazed by the reaction people of faith have to Newt Gingrich. Newt’s ability to story tell, his grasp of history, and how he can relate things back to the founders, is remarkable. It allows people to understand how the Biblical truth goes along with Constitutional truth. So, Newt could benefit tremendously in an arena where most people would typically write him off.”

Rick Santorum: “Santorum could do well because of what I’ve seen him do in the debates and in private when traveling with him on the lecture series. The guy can articulate a worldview. I really believe that Brian Williams was almost speechless after Santorum gave a worldview answer on welfare reform. I think Brian Williams said to himself, ‘People like you really exist? You don’t believe that bigger government is going to take care of poverty?’ So, Santorum has the ability to not be snarky, but to articulate a worldview on his own where people will say, he’s got it. He’s made of the right stuff, so I can see Santorum doing well.”

Who Needs To Do Well:

“On the other side of it, you have a Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann. Both have done well and are polling well. Bachmann won the Straw Poll, but people believe that they are stuck on talking points. At the end of the day, people say that the both of them sound great, but if they can articulate a worldview that is much deeper than the talking points, it could elevate them. So, not only do they have great stump speeches, but they need to prove that they understand where the stump speech comes from.”

Ron Paul, he’s always had a great world view constitutionally, but can he take that to the next level?”

“I think Rick Perry needs this forum. If Perry is able to seal the deal at this forum, he can get past some of the things that have become a roadblock to him gaining support in the social conservative community, and he could do well in Iowa.”

Vander Plaats also talked about Mitt Romney, who is not participating in the event. “If I was consulting Romney, I would tell him, what do you have to lose? You are going to be in front of a bunch of key caucus goers. And if you show your stuff at this type of forum, you could walk away with the Iowa caucuses because you are already polling well in the state. Should Romney decide to show up, there is no doubt that the hidden question on Mitt Romney has been his Mormon faith. Can he articulate a worldview where the evangelical community, the Christian community, can go, I think he’s got it? That even though we have different faiths, I think he has the worldview. So I think all of them could benefit tremendously on this deal.”

Vander Plaats Does Not Want to Sit On The Sidelines

When asked what role The FAMiLY Leader will play after the forum is over, Vander Plaats laid out a number of different possible scenarios. The Board of Directors of The FAMiLY Leader will gather the day after the forum. Vander Plaats said that they plan to talk about whether or not the organization is compelled to get behind a candidate. Is so, Vander Plaats said, “let’s make it count.”

Even if the board decides not back a candidate, that doesn’t mean Vander Plaats will not get involved with a campaign. “If the board says, we think that The FAMiLY Leader should stay neutral, then I think it’s a question of whether Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley endorse individually, and most likely, we would endorse the same person because we are very tight,” Vander Plaats stated.

The third option Vander Plaats laid out was the most surprising, and one he was very serious about. “I don’t want my endorsement to just be a name on a piece of paper. And so, if I’m compelled that I need to get behind Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Pick Perry, whoever it is, Michele Bachmann, if I feel like I need to get behind a candidate and this person needs to win this caucus, then I’d ask The FAMiLY Leader for a sabbatical,” Vander Plaats admitted. “I’ll put a lot of miles on the car and do what ever I can to make sure that candidate is successful,” he added.

Information if you want to attend

Thanksgiving Family Forum
Forum moderated by: 
Frank Luntz 
‘America’s Favorite Pollster’
Saturday, November 19, 4 – 6 pm
First Federated Church, Des Moines, Iowa

Presidential Candidates: Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul,
Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum (confirmed); and Mitt Romney (invited).

Doors open ~ 2:30 pm
For television purposes, all guests must be in their seats by 3:25 pm
Forum ~ 4:00 – 6:00 pm
Attire: Business casual

Tickets: $40 per person

Del Tackett 2.0

Dr. Tackett, the architect of the Truth Project, shares what he is doing next.
Saturday, November 19
9:00 am – 2:00 pm (Lunch Provided)
Grace Church
4200 East 25th Street
Des Moines, IA 50317

Be the first to hear what Dr. Del Tackett will be unveiling next! Get a sneak preview of his follow-up to The Truth Project.
Have the opportunity to meet and interact with Del by asking questions in an in-depth Q& A session
Learn more about initiating and reviving The Truth Project in your community

Dr. Tackett is architect of The Truth Project, Focus on the Family’s worldwide _initiative designed to bring a biblical worldview to the Body of Christ.

Tickets Price: $40 per person

Attend both events for $60 per person.

Photo by Dave Davidson


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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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