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Last night in Iowa, 5 potential 2012 Republican hopefuls spoke at a forum put on by a socially conservative political action group. The night was touted as the unofficial start to the 2012 election for Republicans and did serve to bring in a few big names.

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Politico reports:

WAUKEE, IOWA — Five potential presidential candidates vied to please a socially conservative crowd at a packed event here Monday night that marked the unofficial start to the Iowa caucus campaign and the first time a crush of GOP hopefuls shared a major stage.

Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, Buddy Roemer and Herman Cain each took a turn at the microphone, riffing on a range of social-issue touchstones — denouncing gay marriage, lambasting activist judges and praising the push to defund Planned Parenthood.

But all five essentially share the same positions, and in the end, it was Cain and Roemer — the least known and probably longest-shot of the hopefuls — who got the most praise from a group of influential Hawkeye State conservatives.

“This is the first significant event of the caucus season and you’re turnout tonight says you are very interested in making some change,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad told the crowd before the speeches, calling those on-hand loyal caucus-goers and “valuable” potential supporters.

The theme throughout the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s presidential forum was a push to make social conservative values on par with the economy in the upcoming elections. Foreign policy was barely mentioned — there was one reference apiece to Libya and Israel.

That sentiment was echoed by national Faith and Freedom Coalition head Ralph Reed, who said, “If you turn your backs on the pro family pro life constituency… you will be consigned to permanent minority status.”

In a swipe at Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Reed said, “some have suggested that we call a truce on social and moral issues. … I’d like to have a leader who can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Gingrich was the biggest name and a major attraction, trailed by a crowd and TV camera crews before the event started, thanks in part to his Fox News commentator fame and also his position as a well-known former House Speaker. He lambasted Barack Obama during his speech, saying the president is beholden to the “secular, socialist left” and that a change must come.

Noticeably absent was former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and perhaps former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin if you think she’s going to run. I’m fairly certain Romney is running, however, I can’t say the same for Palin.

Clearly Newt Gingrich had the most to gain from this candidate form given the indiscretions in his personal life. The voting block he’ll have the toughest time with is socially conservative evangelical voters and Gingrich has been doing double over time in the past few years in an attempt to rekindle his image.

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Nate Ashworth is the Founder and Senior Editor of Election Central. He's been blogging elections and politics for almost a decade. He started covering the 2008 Presidential Election which turned into a full-time political blog in 2012 and 2016.

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