DES MOINES, Iowa — Influential Iowa conservative Bob Vander Plaats told The Daily Caller in an interview he thinks religious voters could still coalesce behind Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich despite his well-publicized history of marital infidelity.
“The centerpiece of our faith is forgiveness,” Vander Plaats, the leader of the Family Leader organization, said during a discussion at a diner here on Wednesday.
Gingrich, he said, has “admitted that he’s hurt people” and “wishes he could do things differently” and therefore Christian voters are open to him.
“They’re kind of thinking, maybe we should overlook some of this stuff with Newt because he might be the best to lead at this time,” Vander Plaats said. “That’s what I think you’re seeing with his rise.”
He added: “Now that doesn’t mean we’re over everything. There’s still baggage we need to address, you know personal and policy wise.”
Vander Plaats, whose endorsement would be welcomed by candidates because of his potential to mobilize Christian voters behind a campaign, also told TheDC that he wishes former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, whose Iowa campaign he chaired in 2008, was running for president this time.
If the Family Leader endorses anyone, Vander Plaats said the recipient would be either Gingrich, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry or former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Vander Plaats said Christian voters in Iowa are divided, though many are waiting to see if one rises to be the clear alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“I think it’s not that there’s a lack of good candidates,” he said of why he hasn’t endorsed anyone yet. “It’s just that you have several who are championing our values right now, so it’s hard to walk away from anyone of them.”
He also said it’s “very important” to Christian conservatives that Romney isn’t the nominee.
“He hasn’t admitted that Massachusetts health care is a bad idea. He still thinks it’s a good idea. He hasn’t admitted he has been on both sides of the pro-life, pro-marriage, health care, limited government issues. He’s been passionately on both sides. He hasn’t admitted that,” Vander Plaats said.
Still, he said if he “was caucusing tonight, my wife and I would have to have about an hour sit down and figure out who we’re caucusing for.”
“We still don’t know,” he said. “So if we’re that way, I got to believe the majority of the caucus-goers are that way. And that’s why an endorsement from us may matter more too, because people may go here’s some direction and I’ll blame it on Vander Plaats and the Family Leader if we’re wrong.”