Photo: Flickr/ Gage Skidmore
Evangelical powerbrokers hosted a secret meeting in Iowa for conservative religious leaders last week to take a second look at some of the candidates who might be a viable alternative to Mitt Romney, Business Insider has learned from sources with knowledge of the event.According to a source, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Ron Paul all spoke at the event, which brought together some of Iowa’s most influential evangelical pastors. organised by the powerful Christian activist David Lane, the two-day conference was a feeble attempt to recapture some of the evangelical energy behind Mike Huckabee’s Iowa caucus win in 2008.
Last week’s meeting in Iowa should have been an opportunity for Perry and Gingrich to finally make real comebacks in the first-in-nation caucus state. Both candidates lack organizational support in Iowa, sources say, so mobilizing churches is their last hope to win over the state’s Republican primary voters, 60% of whom identify as born-again Christians.
But a source at the conference told Business Insider that the meetings only confirmed that “evangelicals have lost their cohesion — they don’t trust their leaders.” Pastors who favour Michele Bachmann didn’t even attend the event, the source added, an affront that would have been unthinkable just a few months ago.
Since 2008, Lane has been the driving force in reenergizing and mobilizing the Christian Right. But he has flipflopped his support between the Gingrich and Perry and excluded candidates like Bachmann and Herman Cain, fracturing conservative Christians as pastors split their support among the candidates.
The surprising beneficiary of these divisions is actually Ron Paul, the libertarian stalwart who can’t seem to break 19% in Iowa polls.
Last week’s conference gave Paul exposure to Iowa’s Christian leaders, the gatekeepers to the Iowa caucuses. Unlike Perry and Gingrich, Paul has an active field organisation in Iowa, and consistently polled at the top of state polls. But he has struggled to expand support beyond his cultlike base.
With evangelical support split between his lower-tier rivals, however, just a small portion of the Christian vote could be all Paul needs to break his ceiling and become a real contender in the 2012 race.
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