Social issues take center stage for GOP candidates in Iowa

The Republican presidential field was in Des Moines, Iowa, for the Thanksgiving Family Forum on Saturday night -- all except for Mitt Romney, that is.

The event, sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Leader, was focused on social issues and was directed at a conservative audience that has been seeking a candidate other than Romney to take the Republican presidential nomination.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has been consistently at or near the top of the primary polls, spent the day in New Hampshire. 

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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) took the opportunity to tout their conservative bona fides and audition for the role of the true conservative in the race.

Each has grabbed the attention of the conservative base for some part of the race, but none has been able to knock off Romney for good.

Bachmann took the spotlight in the summer, winning the Ames Straw Poll, but she has faded. Perry seized the role next, but he has stumbled. Cain was next up, but his candidacy has been on the defensive over sexual assault allegations and gaffes. Gingrich has surged to the front of the pack lately -- polls released Monday show him topping the field nationally and tying Cain in Iowa.


And it was Gingrich who drew the loudest applause during the two-hour forum on Saturday. Although he is on his third marriage, Gingrich told the audience that he was the conservative candidate who would restore the role of faith in American life.

"The degree to which the left is prepared to impose intolerance and to drive out of existence traditional religion is a mortal threat to our civilization and deserves to be taken head on and described as what it is which the use of government to repress the American people against their own values," Gingrich said to a round of applause.

The former Speaker also fired a broadside against the Supreme Court, promising to pass laws that could not be overturned. Gingrich said Congress a law stating "personhood begins at conception" would make the Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade irrelevant.

He also hit his usual targets -- the media, Obama and the Democrats' healthcare reform law -- but showed a different side when telling the story of a friend's daughter who was fighting death. 

Although close to tears during his telling of the story, Gingrich turned the tale into an attack on Obama and the healthcare law.

As for Romney, his name came up in a discussion of states' rights in relation to the legality of mandating health insurance.

Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster who moderated the discussion, interjected, "If only Mitt Romney were here to respond."

To which Cain said, "Mitt who?"