SIOUX CENTER, IOWA— The Republican presidential candidates discussed “faith, family and country” with religious voters in Iowa on Saturday, just five weeks away from the state’s caucuses.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy attended a packed event in Sioux Center, Iowa, with Republican Rep. Randy Feenstra of Iowa, who is running for re-election in 2024, titled “Faith and Family.” The candidates all spoke about their personal faith experiences and how they’ve managed to prioritize their families while running a presidential campaign.
“I strongly believe in faith, family and country because I’ve lived it,” Haley told the audience alongside her daughter, Rena.
“Faith in God is the foundation of how I live my life but also how I conduct myself in elected office,” DeSantis said while sitting next to his wife, Casey. “The media opposition, everything, it’s all designed to push you off course. It’s all designed to divert you from being able to achieve what you’re looking to achieve. So having that foundation of faith in God is really what keeps you separate.”
Ramaswamy, who attended with his son, Karthik, has addressed his Hindu faith on several occasions and told Feenstra that he appreciated the opportunity to talk about the “elephant in the room.” A nursing student at the event asked Ramaswamy whether or not Christian voters could rely on him to advance their values and beliefs, to which Ramaswamy replied “If you want a president who’s going to spread Christianity across this country, I wouldn’t be the right candidate.”
“I wouldn’t be qualified to be a pastor, but I am running to be commander in chief … and that person that swears an oath to the Constitution and needs to be grounded in the same values that that Constitution was written to protect … Will I stand for those values? You’re darn right,” he said.
The candidates also shared personal stories from the campaigns. Casey DeSantis said that their son, Mason, loves to watch the debates and that, one time, he told her “our nation is in decline,” prompting a laugh from the audience.
Haley’s daughter said that she has enjoyed being the “person for her [mom] in the front row” since Haley’s husband, Michael, was deployed in June.
“That’s been really special because she’s always been so supportive of me, coming to my track meets, my cheerleading stuff, basketball games, and so I think the most special thing of all of this is gonna be able to support her like she’s been able to support me,” Rena said.
Ramaswamy compared his philosophy on being a father to his approach to the presidency, saying that one should “start with your family at home.”
“As a father, obligation is to my family. I’m not going to be shaken,” he said. “And I think that’s part of what gives me my moral clarity, even in some of my views as it relates to the role of the U.S. president … I think my sole moral duty is to our fellow citizens in this country. This relates to my view as a father, but it relates to my worldview and how I hope to lead this country as a president.”
Feenstra noted that he would be discussing with his team over the next few days whether or not he would endorse one of the candidates. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and founder of the FAMiLY Leader Bob Vander Plaats announced their endorsement of DeSantis, and Vander Plaats has said that he believes religious Iowans will come out strongly against former President Donald Trump.
“Iowa will rise up,” Vander Plaats said, according to The Hill. “This is not leadership our country needs.”
Trump, who was absent from the event, is currently leading the pack in Iowa at 47.3%, with DeSantis coming in second at 18.7%, Haley coming in at 15.7% and Ramaswamy at 5%, according to RealClearPolitics.
Voters who spoke with the DCNF before the event said that they were still trying to make up their minds when it came to who they would vote for in 2024. Many expressed similar thoughts even after the event ended, and Feenstra told the DCNF that’s a unique part of the election process in Iowa.
“This is a great thing about Iowa. This doesn’t break until maybe the first 10 days of January, because people want to talk over Christmas, and they get together around the holidays and often they’re talking with family, and they’ll hear, ‘oh, this person said this,’ or ‘that person said this,’” Feenstra explained. “That’s my person. That’s my candidate and we’ve seen that over the decades. That’s how this plays out.”
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