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Iowa GOP chair: Social issues among the many topics that will shape 2012 race

Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn indicated Friday that not one specific issue will help define candidates among Iowa Republicans in the 2012 election. However, Strawn focused on economic and fiscal issues, not social issues, that Iowa Republicans will want to hear a candidate’s takes on.

“The average Iowa Republican wants to know a candidate shares their core personal convictions, and that just starts the conversation,” Strawn said, following a taping of Iowa Public Television‘s “Iowa Press” program. “They also want to see leadership on the looming fiscal issues we’re talking about, and getting serious about how to address the long-term entitlement crisis.”

Going into 2012, Strawn said, “we need to inject certainty back into the minds of those in those employers with small businesses who create private sector jobs.”

This week, Bob Vander Plaats, Conservative political activist and CEO of the Conservative advocacy group The Family Leader, told the Iowa Independent that a candidate’s views on “core value” issues, including abortion and gay marriage, will set the trust level that Iowa’s voters will have with a certain candidate.

“Regardless of how well a candidate starts out, those core value issues will be the first thing to talk about and establish that trust level with voters,” Vander Plaats said this week. “We want a candidate to be who they say they are and stand by their stances. Candidates who want to play games when it comes to core value issues will be seen by voters as playing politics as usual and pandering.”

Dr. Steffen Schmidt, a political analyst and political science professor at Iowa State University, countered Vander Plaats, saying the edge the tea party movement and the state’s evangelical Christian Conservatives hold over the Iowa Caucuses may cause more moderate Republican candidates like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or former Utah Governor and China Ambassador Jon Huntsman to limit their face time in Iowa — or avoid it completely.

Huntsman told the Associated Press he will not compete in Iowa over stances on ethanol production, which Vander Plaats called a “weak excuse.” The former Governor is expected to make his bid for the White House official next week, according to several different news reports.

Romney, wealthy from his ventures in the private sector before and after his governorship in Massachusetts, has focused on the economy as a staple of his campaign in Iowa. He will sit out the Ames Straw Poll in August.

When asked if he though Vander Plaats, and Iowa’s social and religious Conservatives, had taken over Iowa’s GOP and the establishment — or “old school” — Republican wing of the party, Strawn stayed neutral, and did not indicate he thought different wings within the party, or different political movements, had impact on the candidates who choose to play in the Hawkeye State, including their participation in the caucus or straw poll.

“I don’t know what that question means. What I do know is — well, it’s not the job of the Republican Chairman to place labels on individuals,” Strawn said. “I think as candidates come to this state and talk about their vision for America, it’s going to be individual caucus goers who make that decision (on) who they support. And that’s one thing that’s great about all the energy we see in the Republican party.”

All registered Republicans’ activism provides positive energy to the party, and in turn, the Iowa Caucus, he said, adding the growth of registered Republican voters in Iowa over the last 27 months “demonstrates that Iowans are hungry for leadership, and they’re identifying with Republican candidates who are prepared to provide it.

“I think that part of the energy has given rise to the tea party movement. I think it’s great for the caucuses to have that kind of energy,” he said. “But ultimately, it isn’t going to be a party leader to make that decision on who our nominee is going to be.”

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