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Vander Plaats: I don’t give weight to endorsements
National pundits may be saying that his 2012 endorsement is coveted as one of the top 10 in the nation, but Conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats does not consider himself a high-profiler in the national political arena.“I never have given much weight to endorsements,” Vander Plaats, CEO of the conservative non-profit The Family Leader, said Friday.
Vander Plaats was the only Iowan, and one of a handful names who are not politicians, to appear on a list, published by The Hill reporter Michael O’Brien. Among those to achieve Vander Plaats’s status are former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, younger brother of President George W. Bush.
Noticeably absent from the list is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, winner of the 2008 Iowa Caucuses and the person Vander Plaats served as state campaign director in the last presidential cycle.
“When I saw the list, I was humbled to think that I carry that kind of weight, but I think Gov. Huckabee’s endorsement is far more meaningful than one coming from me,” Vander Plaats told The Iowa Independent. Though Huckabee ultimately lost the 2008 GOP nomination to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), he won the Iowa Caucuses under Vander Plaats campaign strategies in the Hawkeye State.
University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said while he believes the social conservative base — who Vander Plaats represents — may be overestimated in their relevance in Iowa, Vander Plaats’s unwillingness to put their political and social values on the backburner gives him clout.
“As such, he’s seen as not being intimidated by those on the left — or right — who call him names with a fair amount of venom,” Hagle said. “Because of this, he’s well connected with the social conservatives and their networks,” like churches or certain community groups.
Most analysts rate 60 percent of Iowa caucus goers as being social or religious conservatives, which Hagle disputes, saying it’s on the high end. Nonetheless, he added, the base is vocal, which allows them to remain at the forefront of Iowa’s political scene.
“Someone who is hooked into the social conservative networks will have some influence in terms of an endorsement,” Hagle said, referring to Vander Plaats.
Vander Plaats’s record for mobilizing voters — even if not for him — also speaks for itself. He spearheaded a successful effort to oust three Supreme Court Justices last fall, and has made clear he will contribute to similar effort against Justice David Wiggins next year.
Yet, 2012 GOP candidates have not been signing Vander Plaats’ “The Marriage Vow” pledge in droves, questioning the value GOP candidates are putting on Vander Plaat’s endorsement.
“I suspect that most of the Republican candidates wouldn’t have a problem with most of the principles in the pledge,” Hagle speculated. “But the number (of pages), the wording, the footnotes to studies that candidates certainly didn’t read, not to mention the preamble, made it too much. Something like a term limits pledge or ‘no new taxes’ might be acceptable, but when the pledge runs to several pages with a couple of dozen footnotes, it’s almost a guarantee that there’s going to be trouble.”
To date, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn) and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) have signed the vow; Santorum confessed himself “taken aback” by the declaration of dependence at first, but signed it after Bachmann, who continues to pick up steam in the Hawkeye State.
Five candidates have publicly declined to sign the Marriage Vow, among them former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who lashed out at Vander Plaats over the declaration. Political strategist Fred Karger, who is openly gay, described the document as “painful to read.” Other candidates said they did not necessarily disagree with the principles, but felt they should not sign something they would prefer to say for themselves.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) have reported they are thinking about it. Gingrich said his policy director “is going to work with Bob and others to work through some things.”
Vander Plaats has defended the pledge, which has come under fire by different media groups, and even some Republicans.
“This is not because of clout I think I have, or clout The Family Leader has,” he told The Iowa Independent last week. “We are sincere about what we believe in.”