In Iowa, Religious Right Is Now a Force Divided
Measured by national polling, media attention and millions in the bank, the Republican field appears to have come down to a bout between two heavyweights: Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, vs. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.
But in the state where the first nominating votes will actually be counted, the field resembles more of an all-out brawl, with candidates who rank deep on the undercard nationally given a chance to steal an upset finish at or near the top in the Iowa caucuses, the first nominating contest, now probably less than three months away.
“I think it’s a wide-open race,” said Gov. Terry E. Branstad, a Republican. “Michele Bachmann is going to make a very strong effort here. Rick Santorum has put in a lot of effort. Ron Paul — I’ve seen a lot of Ron Paul signs — don’t count him out.”
Of course, many Republicans may ultimately rally around a candidate they consider more electable in the general election against President Obama, and as the campaign goes forward a better-financed candidate like Mr. Romney or Mr. Perry may be able to convey that message.
But in the meantime, the lower-tier candidates are attracting uncommon attention, and one reason is the influence of Christian conservatives, who make up the bulk of the voters in the Republican caucuses. In 2008 they rallied behind Mike Huckabee to give him a surprise victory over Mr. Romney, who had spent $10 million and a year on the ground.
But this time, social conservatives are divided among several candidates who are competing fiercely for their support — each boasting of rock-ribbed opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. The candidates are also finding ways to tie other conservative positions, like ending big government and regulations, to principles of Christian faith…