Iowa social conservatives originally came together on Monday to pray and to try to choose one candidate to support in the Jan. 3 caucuses. But the meeting turned into a discussion about getting behind one candidate with the goal of preventing Mitt Romney from winning the caucuses and going on to win the GOP nomination.
Originally reported by CNN, the meeting was confirmed by attendees who said 20 to 25 social conservatives did come together in Des Moines on Monday.
Kerry Jech, the senior minister of the New Hope Christian Church in Marshalltown, described the meeting’s initial premise as “an effort to pray and seek the Lord’s will, because there are a lot of people who are confused and not sure who to support.
“The original intention was just to come around and see if there was a common person that we could support. That was the original intention, and it became obvious that we share some of the views in some areas. We didn’t come up with a common person that we would support just yet, but it felt like there had been some areas of agreement,” Jech said.
Jech said the group had narrowed down the decision to Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry. Jech said trying to make sure Romney was not the victor on Jan. 3 was not the “primary goal,” but it was discussed and became part of the meeting’s conversation.
“We were looking for some agreement that we needed to find some commonality … so that individuals who don’t share our values on some of these key primary areas … are not the ones nominated,” Jech said. ”As the discussion went along that was something we all agreed upon.”
Romney campaign’s spokesman Ryan Williams responded by saying “Gov. Romney is running a 50-state campaign.
“He’s going to be competitive in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and in all other nominating contests. He’s reaching out to each and every voter to build the support needed to win the Republican nomination,” Williams said.
Jech said that Romney’s Mormon faith was not part of the decision.
“There may be some for whom that is a huge factor, but I can tell you in the meeting we had we talked about it, and that wasn’t an issue,” Jech said. “Adamantly, every person there agreed it wasn’t the religion aspect of it. It was the viewpoint on issues, specifically his definition of marriage and pro-life.
“Now that doesn’t mean Mitt Romney hasn’t agreed [with us] on those topics from time to time, but what’s bothering is he’s also been in the camp as governor of Massachusetts where he’s signed into legislation or been on record as supporting it,” Jech said, referring to same-sex marriage. “The idea that he has waffled on this issue … for me, and I know for a lot of people, these are core issues where there can’t be compromise. Whenever their viewpoint seems to shift it seems like their core values aren’t the same.”
Romney has repeatedly said he is against same-sex marriage, and that he tried to prevent Massachusetts from passing that legislation when he was in office.
Steve Scheffler, an influential Iowa conservative and the head of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, attended the second half of the meeting and agreed that Romney’s religion was not part of the reason the group didn’t want to see him as the winner of the Iowa caucuses. Scheffler is also an RNC committeeman from Iowa, and is not going to endorse any candidate this cycle, no matter what the group decides to do.
“Any of the eight candidates is 150 percent better than Barack Obama, and I will support whoever the Republican nominee is, but it’s no secret that Mitt Romney is ignoring Iowa, sticking his finger in our eye, and the thing that makes me less than happy is his belligerent attitude of poking social conservatives in the eye,” Scheffler told ABC News.
He specifically mentioned his group’s event in October and the Family Leader debate last weekend. Scheffler said that a Romney staff member told him that the former Massachusetts governor would not participate in the Faith and Freedom Coalition event because Romney didn’t like “cattle calls.” Scheffler said it wasn’t an “acceptable excuse,” because of the many debates Romney has participated in.
“If that is not a cattle call, then pray tell what is?” Scheffler asked.
Jech echoed this point: “I know candidates are busy people, but when they feel like they need to make a debate, they make a debate.”
As for the meeting, Scheffler said the group is “concerned they [social conservatives] will splinter, and Romney could end up in first place.
“If Romney wins Iowa, he may be unstoppable. If he doesn’t come first, and there is a strong alternative, he could be the Romney alternative all the way to the convention,” Scheffler said.
Jech added that like Scheffler, just because many of the social conservatives at the meeting didn’t want to see Romney as the nominee, “that doesn’t mean these individuals wouldn’t come together around whoever is the candidate at the end of the day.”
“But, when you have the opportunity to select the person in the caucuses we wanted to see if there were some areas of agreement and see what those areas were,” Jech said.
He said he wasn’t sure if the group would be able to choose one person to support before the caucuses.
“I could foresee getting down to two or three or as good as we can do at this point. There is no authority, nobody has the ability to say, ‘we have to do this,’” Jech said.
Attendees confirmed that Chuck Hurley, president of Iowa Family Policy Center, part of the Family Leader, an influential conservative group in the state, organized the meeting and attended with three staffers. According to attendees, others that went to the meeting were the executive director of the Iowa Right to Life, Jenifer Bowen; a representative from the Iowa chapter of Concerned Women for America; several local pastors; among others.
Jech said the group may meet again on Monday.
ABC News’ Emily Friedman contributed reporting.