MASON CITY, Iowa-On Wednesday, just three days to go until the Iowa straw poll, a choked-up Jenifer Bowen stands before a microphone in the sunshine of a park in Mason City, Iowa, and pauses. Three tiny blanketed baby dolls are in a basket at her feet, and a massive blue bus is parked behind her. She's there because of a choice her parents made in 1972 in upstate New York. That's when her 15-year-old Baptist mother and 17-year-old Catholic father stood up to family pressure and decided not to quell the scandal of their pregnancy.
The U.S. Supreme Court had not yet handed down the Roe vs. Wadedecision, but abortions were readily available in New York. "When you're spared from being a statistic, it's for a reason," said Bowen, who now serves as executive director of Iowa Right to Life and is part of the Values Voter Bus Tour of the state in the lead-up to Saturday's straw poll in Ames.
"All eyes are on Iowa," said former Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrove, now with the Susan B. Anthony List, which is sponsoring the "Values Bus" along with the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council's political action committee. Their goal is to place life, marriage, and family issues in the spotlight while rallying voters to Ames. To make that message clear, the side of the bus has three check marks in boxes next to "sanctity of life," "marriage," and "religious liberty."
"We are looking for a leader on life," Musgrove says at each stop. "A lot of [politicians] say they're pro-life but they never really do anything for the cause."
Late on the second day of the bus tour, the speakers and staff are beginning to feel the strain of five or six events a day despite the comforts of the bus. A flat-screen television is tuned to Fox News as they wind down the cornfield-lined highway. The next stop on the 22-city tour is a marina on Lake Okoboji where two conservative stalwarts in Congress, Steve King of Iowa and Louie Gohmert of Texas, will join them.
Presidential candidates are taking part in several of the tour stops. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is looking to Ames for new momentum, kicked off the first day in Des Moines. Former Sen. Rick Santorum spoke on the second day in Cedar Rapids. Reps. Michele Bachmann and Thaddeus McCotter are both on the schedule and are among the six candidates who signed the pro-life pledge promoted by the Susan B. Anthony List, with Santorum the first to add his name.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, not on the ballot in Ames, was represented by supporters in orange T-shirts at each of the first day's stops, which concluded in Coralville, where Musgrove said she hopes the pro-life Perry will also quickly sign the pledge once he declares his candidacy. His backers are urging a write-in vote at the straw poll, while Perry is scheduled for a South Carolina political appearance the same day.
President Barack Obama will also follow up with an Iowa appearance next week.