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November 30th, 2011

Vander Plaats Says He’s Still Searching for Clarity

Ever since the conclusion of the FAMiLY Leader’s presidential forum eleven days ago, a handful of presidential candidates, the media, and social conservatives from all across Iowa have been waiting for hear who Bob Vander Plaats and his pro-family organization will publically support.

Waiting for word from Vander Plaats seems a lot like waiting for the white smoke to spew out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. Just as is the case in the election of a new pope to lead the Catholic Church, political observers are left to only speculate about what is transpiring at the FAMiLY Leader’s board meetings and at other informal gatherings of social conservative leaders and pastors at a Windsor Heights church.

Many expected Vander Plaats and the FAMiLY Leader to have endorsed already. The presidential forum was the conclusion of a series of events in which the various Republican presidential candidates took part with the FAMiLY Leader. All of the candidates, except for Texas Governor Rick Perry, previously spent an entire day participating in the group’s lecture series. Two of the candidates, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, signed the group’s controversial presidential pledge. Finally they all spent hours seated around a table discussing their faith and worldviews.

No organization in Iowa has had more time to closely vet the Republican presidential candidate than the FAMiLY Leader has, and yet, as of today, the group’s leaders have been unable to make a decision as to whom they will support. In an interview yesterday afternoon, Vander Plaats told, “I don’t have clarity yet. And if I don’t have clarity, I would imagine that neither do 80 percent of Iowa caucus goers.”

In addition to the formal discussions that Vander Plaats and the FAMiLY Leader’s Board of Directors have had, there has also been two meetings of social conservative leaders and pastors in the Des Moines area in the last week or so. While Vander Plaats hasn’t attended, Chuck Hurley, the Vice President of the FAMiLY Leader, has spearheaded the gathering.

Sources familiar with the meetings have indicated that the goal of the meeting is to come to a conclusion as to which candidate social conservatives should rally behind. In the first meeting there was no consensus, but when they met for a second time, a new candidate rating system was unveiled. What was told is that Bachmann received the highest ranking with 36 points, followed by Santorum with 35.5, Perry with 34, and Gingrich with 31.5.

It’s unknown who created the criteria and what it all entails, but the meeting has a large contingent of Bachmann supporters. The reason why this is important is because was told that this group has been charged with making a recommendation to the FAMiLY Leader’s board before they decide on who they will endorse. When asked why his board of directors cannot make a decision on their own, Vander Plaats admitted that the board will seek the input of others, and added that, “Wisdom comes in a multitude of counsel.”

Since showering praise on Gingrich in an interview with the Des Moines Register following the forum, social conservatives leaders around the state have been grumbling about what they think is a likelihood that Vander Plaats may endorse Gingrich.

Yesterday, an anonymous letter from a group called Iowans for Christian Leaders in Government distributed an open letter that they had sent Vander Plaats warning him about the negative ramifications that endorsing Gingrich would bring. The letter stated that Vander Plaats’ endorsement “may be guided, not by prayer and conviction, but by personal benefit and prior relationships.”

Vander Plaats traveled the state in 2008 to advocate on behalf Gingrich’s American Solutions. Gingrich also provided financial support to Vander Plaats’ effort to defeat three Iowa Supreme Court justices last fall. Vander Plaats also received financial support from the American Family Association and worked with Wayne Hamilton, a key Perry aide.

As the letter states, the pre-existing relationships that Vander Plaats has with Gingrich and the members of the Perry campaign are significant. Those same types of relationships don’t exist as far as Bachmann and Santorum are concerned. While Bachmann and Santorum have consistently shown that they are in line with Vander Plaats’ and the FAMiLY Leader’s views, there seems to be a growing sentiment that, since neither of them are showing signs of momentum in the polls, Vander Plaats may be inclined to throw his support behind Perry or Gingrich for obvious reasons.

Vander Plaats believes that the selection process that he and others are going through this time is more difficult than it was four years ago. That may be because he signed on to Mike Huckabee’s campaign early on in the process, and the other socially conservative candidates fell to the wayside after the Ames Straw Poll. Still, Vander Plaats think this is a “healthy” process.

While Vander Plaats and the FAMiLY Leader are still searching for clarity, there is one thing he was very clear about. The process is more difficult because their goal is not to just find a candidate who can beat President Obama next fall, but this candidate also needs to be able to beat Mitt Romney.

The only question for Vander Plaats and the FAMiLY Leader is, what kind of candidate will best accomplish that goal? A surefire conservative whose core convictions match theirs, or a candidate who already has momentum or has the connections that may pay dividends down the road?

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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