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July 7th, 2011

Vander Plaats’ Straw Poll Powerplay

By Kevin Hall

Bob Vander Plaats and his Family Leader organization have found a way to maximize their impact on the Ames Straw Poll.  The group is asking all presidential candidates to sign a “Marriage Vow” pledge, made up of 14 separate promises.  Those who sign, and those who don’t, will be announced just one or two days prior the Ames Straw Poll.

The sometimes bizarre news conference included an inference by IFPC president Chuck Hurley that babies born into slavery were better off than black babies born today because more slave children were raised in “two-parent households”, Bob Vander Plaats saying married couples have “better sex”, and a loud Waste Management garbage truck in the background that was left idling for most of the time Vander Plaats spoke.

The group’s press release says the purpose of the pledge is “to have on record the personal convictions of each presidential candidate as it relates to the issue of marriage.”  The Family Leader is hosting three public forums with each candidate, requiring private meetings for groups of evangelical leaders with each candidate, flying around the state in private jets with each candidate, and hosting a debate with all the candidates. It would seem they have ample opportunity to get each candidate on the record.   Demanding this “Marriage Vow” right before the Straw Poll is the coup de grace in a massive effort to make sure all the presidential candidates pander to Vander Plaats’ organization.

The timing is clearly aimed at showcasing The Family Leader’s power among Iowa caucus goers.  Presidential candidates risk alienating social conservatives by not signing the pledge.  A backlash will be created at the worst possible time.  Since the list of those who do and don’t take the oath comes just hours before the crucial first vote of the GOP presidential primary, there will not be ample time for candidates to explain their reasons for refusing.

All the candidates will receive the pledge by July 15th and have until August 1st to return the document.  Iowa Family Policy Leader president Chuck Hurley said the pledge was not finalized until late in the night prior to their Thursday press conference.  Some of the promises contained in the pledge include:

-Sign off on support of personal fidelity to his/her spouse

-Appointing faithful constitutionalists as judges

-Opposition to any redefinition of marriage

-Prompt reform uneconomic and anti-marriage aspects of welfare policy, tax policy and divorce law

-Support for legal advocacy for the Defense of Marriage Act

-Support for humane efforts to protect women and children

-Rejection of anti-women Sharia Islam

-Safeguards for all married and unmarried U.S. military personnel

-Commitment to downsizing government and the burden upon American families


The evangelical activist group will not endorse any candidate who does not sign the pledge.  However, all of them will be invited to The Family Leader’s debate in November.  The organization has vowed to remain neutral until after that event.  However, during Thursday’s press conference, reporter Kay Henderson grilled Vander Plaats and Hurley about The Family Leader’s decision to publicize a Tea Party event headlined by Michele Bachmann.  They did not promote any of the other events on the recent Tea Party bus tour, which included several other candidates.  One of the few attendees at Thursday’s press conference was longtime Vander Plaats ally Barb Heki, who now works for Bachmann’s campaign.  Hurley claimed the free publicity for Bachmann was “inadvertent” and Vander Plaats said he would “take the fall for that if that happened.”  Bachmann quickly signed the pledge, becoming the first candidate to do so.

The Family Leader joins a long line of special interest groups demanding pledges from the 2012 candidates.  Mitt Romney and Herman Cain suffered a backlash from conservatives when they refused to sign the Susan B. Anthony organization’s pro-life oath.  Other pledges have centered on economic issues and cutting government spending.

Vander Plaats was asked if he believes those other pledges do not go far enough.  “Exactly,” the Family Leader CEO replied.   “We’re committed to this.  We put a lot of thought into this.  We put a lot of research into this and we’ve laid out the vow very forthrightly.  I think the candidates will embrace this.”

President Obama was also asked to sign the “Marriage Vow” pledge.  He has already refused.  Some in the media have labeled Bob Vander Plaats a “kingmaker” in the 2012 race.  Now the question becomes, which potential “kings” will swear fealty to Vander Plaats and which ones will refuse his latest power grab.


Photo By Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Kevin Hall
Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson's presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor's office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad's 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for

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