At The New York Times, Jeff Zeleny reports:
Here in Iowa, whose caucuses next winter will open the campaign, social and religious conservatives are pressing the likely candidates on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion rather than on jobs, the budget deficit and other economic concerns that leaders of both parties expect to dominate the general election.
The development provides opportunities for candidates like Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who have a following among social conservatives. But it could make Iowa even more difficult territory for, among others, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, who has yet to visit the state this year.
More broadly, some Republicans say, it could muddle the party’s message as it seeks to defeat President Obama.
“We look like Camp Christian out here,” said Doug Gross, a Republican activist and former nominee for governor. “If Iowa becomes some extraneous right-wing outpost, you have to question whether it is going to be a good place to vet your presidential candidates.”
As Zeleny also reported, different approaches were on display at the state's Conservative Principles Conference:
Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi urged Republicans to keep a tight focus on the policies of the Obama administration, the state of the economy and the size of government.
“It is absolutely critical that we elect a new president,” Mr. Barbour said. “I think the best way — perhaps the only way — is for us to make sure the 2012 campaign is focused on policy. The American people agree with us on policy.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who took the stage after Mr. Barbour, offered a different view, ranking values above the economy and national security in his three-point list of what the next presidential campaign should be about.
“Some people may say we should stay away from values, stay away from social issues,” Mr. Gingrich said. “I’m here to tell you that if you don’t start with values, if you don’t start by saying who we are as Americans, the rest of it doesn’t matter.”
Mr. Gingrich drew applause when he suggested that students “in every class in K-12 and in every tax-paid college” should learn the words of the Founding Fathers that “we are endowed by our creator.”