Iowa’s tea party found religion

Before the 2008 election, there was a lot of ink spilled on the Democratic outreach to religious voters, but this time, the cycle seems more focused on the tea party. Part of the shift is probably due to the state of the economy and current horse race coverage on potential Republican candidates, but maybe the media cycle just needs to jump to the next exciting group to fuel election content.

We’ve looked at the media’s struggle to figure out if there is a religious connection to the tea party. A new Washington Post piece offers an interesting angle because it took one slice of question and put it in a specific context: Iowa. The story looks at how Iowa seems to be the most natural place to mix religion (i.e. social issues, in this story) with fiscal issues.

The movement is not as well-organized in Iowa as it is in other states. The national groups that have helped train, organize and fund tea party organizations across the country have less of a presence here, in part because their exclusive focus on free-market priorities puts them at odds with the evangelical movement that controls the state’s Republican Party apparatus.

What’s interesting in the above paragraph is that the reporter asserts that “free-market priorities puts them at odds with the evangelical movement.” Don’t get me wrong: I don’t see evangelicals grabbing tea party reins or anything. But would all evangelicals find the fiscal angle at odds with their theology?

Sixty percent of GOP caucus-goers in the 2008 presidential election described themselves as evangelical Christians, and they were largely the reason Mike Huckabee won the state. If Huckabee enters the race this time, he will be widely viewed as an instant front-runner in Iowa – even though he increased taxes and spending as governor of Arkansas.

What makes me pause about this paragraph is that Huckabee is not the only potential candidate with a faith-filled background, especially if former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and others run. For instance, the reporter notes that other potential presidential candidates have crafted tea party-friendly messages.

[Rick] Santorum, who has long emphasized social issues, met with a group of tea partyers in Davenport in December and spoke to the Urbandale club last week. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) recently sat down with a small group of activists in Des Moines. And Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) spoke to a fiscal watchdog organization the week before.

I wonder if Iowans feel differently about Santorum and Gingrich as Roman Catholics than they do about someone like Bachmann, who is Lutheran. Perhaps Iowans might feel like the politicians would have similar social stances, but I would think their religious affiliation might be worth mentioning.

Finally, the piece offered some really interesting details about the usually social issue-focused groups are adopting more tea party-friendly emphases.

Some groups that have traditionally stuck to social issues are also adopting a tea party refrain this year. The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition and the Iowa Family Policy Center led efforts last fall to oust three state Supreme Court justices who had voted to block a state law banning same-sex marriage – in part on a tea party message that the justices had overreached their constitutional authority.

These groups and others are meeting with potential presidential contenders, scheduling forums and debates and even planning to endorse depending on where the candidates stand on such issues as abortion and same-sex marriage. Yet Bob Vander Plaats, who heads a new conservative organization called the Family Leader (and lost the Republican nomination for Iowa governor last year), calls himself a tea party leader.

Generally, I’ll be curious if the 2012 election coverage suffers in the religion category due to the tea party–or perhaps new surveys will help us flesh out these similarities or tensions.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Dave

    With some trepidation (since I’m not a journalist) I’d suggest that journalists may have a wall of separation in their heads between social and fiscal conservatives.

    If so this isn’t entirely their fault. I’ve heard social conservatives rip into the out-of-state backers of a local abortion clinic, unconsciously definant of the free-market right to invest in anything, anywhere that’s legal. After abortion and gay marriage dominated several election cycles the Tea Party was remarkable in sticking to fiscal issues. But these are all anecdotes, and journalists may have forgotten momentarily that the plural of anecdote is not data.

  • Passing By

    a faith-filled background

    Not meaning to pick, but I think this phrase demonstrates a problem reporters have with talking about these things. For example, does President Obama not have a “faith-filled background”? Much has been said over the years about the influence of Methodism on Hillary Clinton. Keith Ellison likewise has a “faith-filled background”.

    The several Tea Party discussions linked above brought out the diversity of the movement in terms of religious interests or lack thereof. Combine that with the debate over the religious (or lack therefore) nature of abortion coverage and you have a situation where GetReligion will have plenty of posts about Tea Party coverage as 2012 approaches.

  • Matt

    Most American evangelicals are fiscal conservatives. As a fiscally liberal evangelical, I have few compatriots. I personally find this alarming, but it is the truth. It seems to me the story ought to be that evangelicals have been members of the Tea Party all along but have largely been quiet on social issues for the sake of conservative unity, and maybe that is changing in Iowa.

    My first impression of “their exclusive focus on free-market priorities puts them at odds with the evangelical movement” was not that evangelicals don’t like a focus on free-market priorities, but that they don’t want an exclusive focus on free-market priorities. That is, they want to talk about abortion and gay marriage as well as free-market capitalism. But by next trotting out Huckabee, the reporter doesn’t seem to have meant this, nor does she really understand the point. Yes, Huckabee had some fiscally liberal policies as governor, but he ran hard the other way as soon as he started running for president, similarly to how McCain tacked hard to the right in the several years leading up to 2008.

    No, fiscally conservative evangelicals are not news.


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