Bush's absence noted at rally for 'family, faith and freedom'
By Amy Paulson and Mike Ferullo/CNN
January 23, 2000
Web posted at: 2:35 a.m. EST (0735 GMT)
DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- A notably absent George W. Bush
took it on the chin Saturday night as Steve Forbes, Gary
Bauer and Alan Keyes came to the First Assembly of God Church
in Des Moines to rally for "family, faith and freedom."
The three Republican presidential candidates signed a pledge
to prosecute child pornography, railed against the evils of
abortion and availed themselves of every opportunity to
remind the audience of nearly 2,000 that the man who is
leading in the polls was not gracing them with his presence.
Campaigning in Cedar Rapids and Davenport, the Texas governor
sent Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft as his surrogate. But the
buzz among parishioners was that the front-runner's absence
had raised the hackles of the pastors.
Ashcroft met with Bush supporters before the event, but
outside of the chapel and away from the cameras. After the
event, a letter of greeting from Bush was read as the crowd
swarmed out of the chapel.
Prayers and jeremiads against the evils of homosexuality
punctuated the rally. Here, too, Bush was a target of
criticism, this time for allowing gays to serve in his Texas
"Mr. Bush, tolerance of wickedness and sin is no family
value," said Michael Johnson, a local crusader against
And on the 27th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme
Court decision that legalized abortion, Bush was criticized
for not pledging to select a pro-life running mate or to make
abortion a litmus test for judiciary appointees.
"Our founders understood: First life, then liberty, then the
pursuit of happiness," Forbes said. He repeated he would
select a pro-life running mate if nominated, and added that
he would not rest until "that murderous decision" is "thrown
in the dustbin of history."
A key bloc in Iowa
Forbes, Bush's main rival in Iowa, has been rallying hard for
the support of the Hawkeye state's social conservatives. They
make up a crucial voting bloc that Bauer and Keyes also have
Conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly -- who joined Forbes on
his grassroots bus tour of small-town Iowa earlier this week,
but stopped short of formally endorsing him -- gave an
enthusiastic introduction on Forbes' behalf, and urged voters
to support him on Monday night. Her words were met with a
standing ovation by many of the women in attendance.
As he signed the anti-pornography pledge, Forbes said,
"unlike George Bush, I'll sign the pledge. Promises made
should be promises kept." He was referring to Bush's hedge on
the abortion issue early on in the campaign, and Forbes'
recent claim that the Texas governor reneged on a 1994 anti-
Both Bauer and Keyes have suggested in that Forbes is a
recent convert to the anti-abortion movement, a charge Forbes
fervently denies. In an attempt to deflect such criticism,
Forbes turned again to Bush, characterizing the Texas
governor's statement Saturday that he supports the GOP plank
in favor of a constitutional amendment banning abortion as "a
little too late."
A charismatic Alan Keyes received the heartiest applause of
all the candidates when he said: "One of the problems we have
right now is too many people go into the voting booth and
caucuses to maximize what they can get for themselves.
"Our first responsibility is not to ourselves," Keyes said.
"Our first responsibility is to our country and to our God."
Speaking easily to the audience, Keyes said, "I frankly don't
care if you agree with my stand on abortion. I take that
stand because no other stand is consistent with decent
principles, and no other standard is consistent with the will
After his address, Keyes stepped down to shake hands with the
cheering crowd, and earned a standing ovation of more than
A visibly tired Gary Bauer, dressed in a sweater and dark
slacks, said that he had participated in several pro-life
marches earlier in the day.
"Why is it that today we had to mark for the 27th time the
destruction of one-and-a-half million children?" Bauer asked.
"When I am elected president, abortion is going to end not in
50 years, not in 40 years, but immediately," he said. The
anti-abortion sentiment played well to the predominantly
white, middle-class crowd.
How it played
David Davidson, a member of the church, said he was there
Saturday night to take photographs of the candidates for the
church and because, he added, he "was asked to serve
"I've gone to a bunch and I don't know if you can predict it.
I might put my name in for delegate to the county convention
A dentist in Des Moines, Davidson -- who hasn't missed a
caucus since he voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976 -- said only
only 10 percent of his patients have said they'll go.
"They don't want to go because it takes so much time," he
said. "What you get at the caucuses then, are the people who
really, truly care.
"It's politics in its purest form and it's kind of fun," he
said with a chuckle. "I think it's an effective process."
Although he started out as a Democrat, Davidson is now a
full-fledged Republican and has participated in both
"As I grew as a Christian, I became more conservative and
found a home with Republicans," he explains. He voted for
Ronald Reagan in 1984, and now supports Bush - in spite of