Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic mayor of Chicago who served as President Barack Obama’s first White House chief of staff, said yesterday that Republicans place “ideology” over the public interest, a day after candidates for that party’s presidential nomination made a pitch to 3,000 social conservatives at a church in Iowa.
Six Republican candidates seeking to become the main alternative to Mitt Romney attended a Nov. 19 forum in Des Moines, where they criticized the Occupy Wall Street movement and called for a greater religious presence in civic life. Romney, 64, skipped the event, which was sponsored by a coalition of Iowa groups opposed to abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
Obama “has a plan; they have an ideology,” Emanuel said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” program. “He has offered to work on a grand bargain. They have refused to bargain.”
On the same day as the social conservatives’ forum, Emanuel also appeared in Des Moines. He addressed an annual Democratic fundraising dinner, mocking the Republicans as he pressed for Obama’s re-election.
Known for his sharp-edged speaking style, Emanuel told about 1,500 Democrats that the name of the Republican event -- the Thanksgiving Family Forum -- “is fitting, because I have never seen such a collection of turkeys.”
Emanuel, 51, kept his focus primarily on Romney, targeting the candidate who Obama’s re-election campaign thinks is most likely to be the president’s 2012 opponent. He painted the former Massachusetts governor as a serial “flip-flopper” on a number of issues.
“Mitt Romney says he’s a man of steadiness and consistency, and if that’s true, then I’m a linebacker for the Chicago Bears,” Emanuel said.
Romney’s spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, said in an e-mail yesterday that “the last thing the White House wants is to run against Mitt Romney -- which explains their obsessive focus on him and deployment of all of President Obama’s cronies to attack him.”
The church gathering offered the challengers to Romney a spotlight before an influential voting bloc.
Romney’s absence underscored his campaign’s reluctance to fully commit to winning the Iowa caucuses, which begin the presidential nomination contests on Jan. 3. Still, a Bloomberg News poll released Nov. 15 showed that fractured support in the state among the other top Republican contenders could give him an opening to win the caucuses.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been rising in national polls of the Republican race and in Iowa surveys, chided the Occupy Wall Street movement as he made his bid for the backing of social conservatives. He questioned the use of public parks and restrooms by protesters who may not be paying taxes to support those facilities.
“That is a pretty good symptom as to how much the Left has collapsed as a moral system in this country, and why we need to reassert something as simple as saying to them: ‘Go get a job right after you take a bath,’” he said.
The twice-divorced Gingrich also talked about how he was overwhelmed as his national political profile grew and ended up turning closer to God after a friend lent him books about addiction.
“I wasn’t drinking, but I had precisely the symptoms of somebody who was collapsing under this weight,” he said. “And I found myself, an emerging national figure, reading the Good Book and trying to understand where I had failed, and why I was empty and why I had to turn to God.”
Businessman Herman Cain, who had been surging in the polls until sexual harassment allegations surfaced against him in late October, decried what he termed “a widening gap between people of faith and people of non-faith.”
Cain, who didn’t mention the harassment allegations that he has vehemently denied, told the audience: “The way you fight back is not be afraid to express your faith in any setting, rather than worrying about the political correctness police.”
U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said she supports the repeal of federal laws that limit the political speech religious leaders can deliver from the pulpit.
First Amendment Right
“That’s not the American way,” she said. “That is the First Amendment: allowing pastors to say whatever they want in the pulpit.”
Though Bachmann didn’t directly criticize any of the other Republican candidates at the event, her campaign issued a news release during the forum with the headline: “Newt Gingrich Has Failed to Meet a Consistently Pro-Life Standard.”
The release claimed to document instances where Gingrich had watered down “the Republican Party’s commitment to the inalienable right to life and failed as the leader of the U.S. House of Representatives to stem the flow of taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood, the largest U.S. provider of abortions.”
U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who polls show has a solid base of support in Iowa, said he opposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage, a measure sought by social conservatives.
“I would prefer under our system of laws that all these problems be taken care of in a constitutional manner, which I would defer to the states,” he said.
Foreign Aid, Abortion
Texas Governor Rick Perry, who needs a strong showing in Iowa to resurrect his campaign, linked his call for the elimination of some U.S. foreign aid to the abortion issue.
“The idea that we are sending billions of dollars to China, who are aborting 35,000 children a day, is immoral and wrong and has to stop,” Perry said.
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania reminded his audience that he came to Iowa last year and “worked to defeat” state supreme court judges who in 2009 had ruled in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry. Santorum, who lags behind in the polls, has spent more time in Iowa this year than any of the Republican candidates.
Romney’s absence from the Republican forum frustrated event organizer Bob Vander Plaats.
“We all know he is trying to win Iowa,” Vander Plaats said in an interview. “Yet he is intentionally disrespecting this base.”
Romney, who just opened his first Iowa campaign office west of downtown Des Moines, was meeting voters this weekend in New Hampshire, where the nation’s first primary will be held Jan. 10. He also skipped a Republican fundraising dinner in Iowa on Nov. 4 and a banquet for social conservatives on Oct. 22. He is scheduled to make his fifth Iowa visit this year on Nov. 23.
Romney also sought the Republican presidential nomination four years ago, eventually losing to Arizona Senator John McCain. In that race, social conservatives helped former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee win Iowa’s Republican caucuses, which played a part in derailing Romney’s campaign. Romney had spent about $10 million trying to win the state.
Vander Plaats, who was Huckabee’s state campaign chairman, said it was about this time four years ago when social conservatives began to line up behind his candidate.
“This is when they start to break,” he said. “I think it’s a big mistake on Romney’s part” to not more actively seek their support.
Frank Luntz, a Fox News contributor who moderated the forum, was the only one on stage to directly mention Romney. After Cain criticized the concept of a health-care mandate like the one in the state law Romney signed in Massachusetts -- as well as the one in the federal measure Obama pushed into law last year -- Luntz said, “If only Mitt Romney were here to respond.”
The Bloomberg News poll conducted Nov. 10-12 of Iowans likely to attend the caucuses showed Romney, Cain, Paul and Gingrich in a statistical tie for first place, all at or near 20 percent.
The poll showed that 43 percent of likely caucus participants consider themselves “born again” or fundamentalist Christians. Among that group, Romney gets support from 12 percent, six points below his overall number.
Iowa Republican Governor Terry Branstad, the senior Republican in the state, scolded Romney on Nov. 16 for deciding to skip the Republican church forum.
“I know Romney is putting his focus in New Hampshire, but if he gets clobbered here -- if he comes in not in the top three, but say fourth or fifth -- I think that really damages his campaign,” Branstad said.
After the Republican event, all of the candidates except Gingrich made brief speeches honoring Branstad at a celebration for his 65th birthday in Altoona, Iowa.