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Pence rallies social conservatives, sidesteps 2012 questions
DES MOINES — U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., made an impassioned plea to conservatives at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition dinner Saturday night: Go to the polls in November to protect your Christian values and freedom.
Pence said although economic issues are important for the country right now, its a lack of morality that pains the nation most. Everything that is great about America, he said, could come crashing down because of the lack of values in Washington.
“We will not restore this nation with public policy alone,” he said. “It will require public virtue and that emanates from the traditional institutions of family and religion.”
He continued by shooting down sentiments that moral issues must wait until the failing economic climate passes. Moral issues, he argued, are the bedrock of the American nation.
“To those who say that marriage doesn’t matter, I say, ‘you would not be able to print enough money in 1,000 years to pay for the government you would need if the traditional family continues to collapse.’”
Pence, who has been in the news recently as a possible 2012 candidate for the presidency, sidestepped the idea of running while speaking to a crowd of nearly 550 people at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The event was organized by the Iowa Christian Alliance and Ralph Reed, the former head of the national Christian Coalition.
“The old saying is ‘nobody ever comes to Iowa by accident’ and, for the media in the room let me be clear, I did come to Iowa on purpose and my purpose is to ask the people of Iowa to help us end the Pelosi-led Congress once and for all,” Pence proclaimed.
Pence, who was picked as the top choice for president by the Value Voters Summit last month, said he was honored to receive the award but would not comment further on the possibilities that he runs for president.
“It hasn’t changed our focus in the least,” he told the press after his speech. “We’re entirely focused on Nov. 2. And as I said in my remarks tonight I did come here on purpose, and my purpose was to ask Iowa to help lead this nation back to a conservative majority on Capitol Hill.”
Pence’s speech focused heavily on foreign and economic policy. Recognizing the current political climate, Pence said the GOP needs to return to its fundamental roots and fight for the conservative values he feels the Republican Party abandoned after the 2006 election.
“Truth is, our party in Congress walked away from the principles that minted our national governing majority, and the American people walked away from us,” he said. “But after a year that saw every single House Republican vote against the failed stimulus bill, every single House Republican vote against the budget-busting budget and every single Republican oppose that government takeover of health care with public funding for abortion, let me tell you: Republicans in Congress are back in the fight, and they’re back in the fight on the right.”
Attendees were receptive to Pence’s speech, often giving rousing standing ovations at different moments in the night. Although clapping during times when Pence discussed the economy or foreign policy, audience members were most spirited when social issues were brought to the forefront. The biggest applause of the night came when Pence called for the end of federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Jon Gruber, of Altoona, said the coalition’s foundational principles are rooted in its ties to both faith and freedom. In his eyes, Pence’s speech was an appropriate marriage between those two principles.
“I thought he did a good job,” he said. “I’ve been part of this organization for years. I kind of wanted to hear something less political, but it’s nothing that I objected to at all.”
Pence’s appearance did leave attendees wondering if he is going to throw his hat in the ring for the presidency. Jennifer Doland, of Oskaloosa, said that she enjoyed his speech and said he would be a good candidate for 2012.
“I’m excited, I’m excited for a conservative to show up in Iowa,” she said. “You hear the rumors of who’s going to come, who’s not going to come. You know, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, you wonder. But he’s a good one too, so you just hope there’s somebody very conservative to start here.”
West Des Moines resident Jack Swanson agreed.
“I thought he did a good job and really presented the view of many Americans, and I think he’s going to have great success in whatever he does,” Swanson said. “I’ve seen literature he’s running. But I was thinking I might here more about that, but I didn’t hear anything tonight.”
In an interview with The Iowa Independent after the event concluded, Pence said he has not made any plans to return to Iowa in the coming months, stressing his current priority of campaigning for Republicans nationwide.
“Some people have talked to us about serving in other positions or seeking higher office, and what I’ve told people is that we’re going to stay completely focused on winning back a conservative majority on Capitol Hill on Nov. 2,” he said. “We’ll let the future take care of itself.”