Saturday evening's Family Leader forum in Des Moines was widely viewed as a key test for Republican presidential candidates trying to win the support of still-undecided Iowa social conservatives. And after an extraordinary and sometimes soul-baring discussion between six candidates gathered at First Federated Church, there are signs Newt Gingrich has come out ahead in the race to become the candidate behind whom social conservatives unite behind in their drive to stop Mitt Romney.York concludes:
Discussions with some social conservative leaders after the forum brought praise for all of the participants, particularly Gingrich and Rick Santorum. But it turns out that pollster/strategist Frank Luntz, who conducted the forum, also ran a focus group after the session, and it appears Gingrich scored very well with the group. "I think the focus group that Luntz did afterward would bear out that Newt Gingrich came a long way Saturday night," says Family Leader president Bob vander Plaats. "I think it would bear out that Gingrich won the forum."
"When you watch it, you'll say, 'Wow,'" vander Plaats continued. "It also looked very good for Santorum, but primarily for Gingrich." The focus group was taped for later showing on Fox News.
What is happening now is that social conservatives are working their way through his liabilities, particularly his three marriages, and trying to decide if they can support the Gingrich of today -- not the Gingrich of 15 or 20 years ago -- without compromising social conservative principles. In the Family Leader forum Saturday, it appears that all involved made a big step toward doing that.