Businessman Herman Cain faced a gathering of social conservatives in Iowa last night, seeking absolution for remarks he made about abortion and personal choice that have left some in the early-voting state unsettled.
“In terms of preventing abortion on demand, I would not sign any legislation for government-funded abortion,” Cain told about 1,000 people gathered at the state fairgrounds in Des Moines for an Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition banquet.
“I would not sign any legislation that in any way allowed the government to be involved in it,” he said. “I would strengthen all of our current laws that prevent abortion. I believe that abortion should be clearly stated and illegal across this country and I would work to defund Planned Parenthood.”
Cain was among six Republican presidential candidates speaking to Iowa social conservatives who have yet to coalesce around any of those aspiring to become President Barack Obama’s challenger in 2012. The voting bloc is a critical one which helped former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee win the Iowa Republican Party’s caucuses in 2008.
Cain, a former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive officer, said during a CNN interview on Oct. 19 that some abortion-related decisions should be made by families.
“It gets down to that family,” he said in the interview. “And whatever they decide, they decide.”
Cain added: “The government shouldn’t be trying to tell people everything to do, especially when it comes to social decisions that they need to make.”
Texas Governor Rick Perry used the forum to highlight anti-abortion legislation he has signed as governor.
“I have taken an unwavering stand in defense of life,” Perry said. “Being pro-life is not a matter of campaign convenience. It is a core conviction. And that conviction should include the protection of embryonic stem cells.”
Perry mocked those who might suggest the government should not be involved in abortion decisions.
“It is a liberal canard to say, ‘I am personally pro-life, but government should stay out of that decision,’” Perry said. “If that is your view, you are not pro-life. You are pro having your cake and eating it, too.”
Cain maintained he believes there should be “no abortions, no exceptions.”
Cain won applause from the Iowa gathering for last night’s comments, and a majority gave him a standing ovation when he finished speaking. Asked by Bloomberg News whether he thought he had put the matter behind him, Cain said: “I think I did.”
Before Cain took the stage, one of his fellow candidates questioned Cain’s comments in an interview with Radio Iowa.
“Obviously he’s come across as either being inconsistent or very confused on that,” U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas told the network. “And this is one issue that supporters of the issue -- they don’t want confusion.”
Some of those in attendance said they were troubled about Cain’s remarks and wanted to hear him clarify his views.
“There’s concern,” said Marilyn Lane, 62, a retired communications professional who lives in West Des Moines, Iowa. “I like Herman Cain otherwise. He’s a charismatic person, but I’m also concerned that he has no experience in the arena.”
Rising in Polls
It was Cain’s first Iowa visit in two months and followed his rapid rise in polls following his appearances in a series of debates. Earlier yesterday, he attended University of Iowa and Iowa State University football games.
Joining Cain, Perry and Paul at the banquet were U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.
Perry allowed some humor about his own campaign.
“We are not called to be perfect,” he said. “If any of you have watched my debate performances over the last three or four times, you know I am far from perfect.”
Santorum did not specifically name any of his opponents as he questioned whether some of them were as committed to making abortion illegal as he is.
“The choice for you is whether the folks who are delivering this are authentic,” he said. “Can they be trusted? Are these the people who stood up when they had their opportunity and did what was called to be done?”
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney didn’t attend the event. He is taking a below-the-radar approach to Iowa as he seeks to manage expectations for him in the state.
Romney finished second in Iowa in 2008 after the socially conservative voters who dominate the party’s caucuses took issue with his past support for abortion rights and a Massachusetts health-care law when he was governor.
This year, social conservatives have yet to rally around one candidate, leaving the possibility that they could divide their support, creating an opening for Romney to make a strong showing in the early January caucuses.
A poll conducted Oct. 12-19 by the University of Iowa showed Cain and Romney leading in the state. Paul was the only other candidate who had more than 10 percent support.
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, encouraged those gathered at the banquet not to allow the primary campaign to divide the party.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect candidate,” he said. “We have so much to fight for in this election. We are going to come together.”