DeSantis, Haley and Ramaswamy talk family and faith at Iowa roundtable

Three Republican presidential candidates shared the stage in Iowa Friday night, as a key block of Iowa voters heard candidates weigh in on abortion, foreign policy and their faith, with less than two months to go before the caucus. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy spoke at a roundtable Friday moderated by influential evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats. And while the three have had combative exchanges on the debate stage, Friday’s roundtable was polite and featured no crosstalk or insults.

Former President Donald Trump, the front-runner in Iowa and nationwide for the GOP nomination, was invited but did not attend

Here are some of the takeaways from the latest Iowa cattle call.

Vivek Ramaswamy talks about wife’s miscarriages

Ramaswamy became emotional as he talked about his wife Apoorva’s miscarriage during the forum. It was the first time he has spoken publicly about it. She became pregnant during her medical residency and suffered a miscarriage three months into her pregnancy.

It devastated the couple, Ramaswamy said. 

“We lost our first child, and that was the loss of a life. It was our family’s loss, and you know, Apoorva, she is probably one of the most upbeat, strong, positive people you will meet,” Ramaswamy said. “She went into a state of depression after that, and our faith is what got us through it, actually. Our faith teaches us that, you know our child joined his creator, and one day, we will too.” 

Election 2024 Republicans Iowa
Republican presidential candidate businessman Vivek Ramaswamy holds his three-year old son Karthik as he speaks during the Family Leader’s Thanksgiving Family Forum, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Charlie Neibergall / AP

Ramaswamy added that the couple experienced another scare months later, during her second pregnancy. But doctors were able to find a heartbeat, and Karthik, Ramaswamy’s first son, was born. He attended the Thanksgiving Family forum with Ramaswamy — and joined him on stage after he told the emotional story. 

Afterward, Ramaswamy told CBS News that while it was “difficult” to share his wife’s experience on the campaign trail, he thought “it’s important that everybody in this country know who we are and what we stand for before they make that choice.”

DeSantis also shared for the first time publicly, that his wife Casey DeSantis, too, suffered a miscarriage. 

“We wanted to have a family, and it didn’t happen at first,” DeSantis said. “We just kept praying. We knew that there would be a path that God would lead us on, and lo and behold, in short time, we did it, and we had our first baby girl.”

Haley reiterates her support for South Carolina’s six-week abortion ban

At Friday’s roundtable, Haley was asked to clarify her stance on abortion after Vander Plaats claimed many wondered if her recent remarks calling for a consensus was “too pro-choice.”

“I am unapologetically pro-life,” Haley responded, touting her record as governor of South Carolina. Haley went on to explain that a federal abortion bill is not feasible because it would not have enough congressional support, and instead, the focus should be on saving as many lives as possible. 

“If you’re going to pass a federal law, you have to have a majority of the House, you have to have 60 Senate votes, you have to have the signature of a president. And we haven’t had 60 Republicans in over 100 years,” she said.

Election 2024 Republicans Iowa
Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during the Family Leader’s Thanksgiving Family Forum, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Charlie Neibergall / AP

Vander Plaats further pressed Haley on whether she would have signed a six-week abortion ban as South Carolina governor.

“Yes, whatever the people decide you should go, I think it’s right to be in the hands of the people,” she replied.

In August, South Carolina’s highest court upheld the six week ban signed by GOP Gov. Henry McMaster in May. 

Haley maintained that while she is pro-life, it’s a matter that must be addressed in a way that doesn’t further divide the country. 

President Biden’s campaign quickly reacted and released a statement saying Haley is “no moderate – she’s an anti-abortion MAGA extremist who wants to rip away women’s freedoms just like she did when she was South Carolina governor.” 

DeSantis says Trump is a “high-risk” candidate 

Asked by Vander Plaats why he didn’t just “wait his turn” until after Trump was unable to run, DeSantis said Trump is a candidate who’s “high risk with low reward.”

He painted the former president as someone who cannot win in 2024 and didn’t keep his promises in 2016. 

“I think as a lame duck with poor personnel and the distractions, it’s going to be hard for him to get this done,” said DeSantis, who has consistently trailed the former president by double digits in polling. 

“My candidacy is lower risk – because we’ll run Biden ragged around this country – but high reward. Because you get a two-term conservative president who’s going to stand for your values and deliver for you for eight full years,” he added. 

Election 2024 Republicans Iowa
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, speaks during the Family Leader’s Thanksgiving Family Forum as businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, center, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, right, look on, Nov. 17, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Charlie Neibergall / AP

DeSantis’ comments echoed his usual critiques of Trump on the campaign trail, but he gave them Friday night in front of a bloc of 800 evangelical voters brought in by Vander Plaats, who may endorse DeSantis.

Vander Plaats has said he planned to use the event to make a final decision. After the event, he told CBS News the roundtable was “a lot to take in and process” from all the three candidates. He added after a private dinner his organization is hosting, he would talk with his team and advisers to make a final decision “soon.”

Evangelical voters torn on the impact of impending Vander Plaats endorsement

Attendees praised Vander Plaats for putting faith-based issues at the center of the Republican primary race, but very few said his endorsement would have much impact on their choice. 

“We’ll make up our own minds,” said Doug Steel, a 58-year-old farmer in Anita, Iowa. 

“I’m not necessarily waiting for one person to say, ‘Okay guys, let’s go,'” said voter Rebecca Haynie. 

But Haynie, a 37-year-old small-business owner, thinks Vander Plaats’ reach is important to the evangelical community and said that “there are a lot of people that think that the Family Leader is well-trusted.

Ed O’Neill, a 50-year-old banker from West Des Moines is one of those people. He is still undecided on who he will caucus for in January and is taking to heart notable endorsements in the primary.

“[Vander Plaats] is a brilliant person and he’s done a lot for the community and for candidates across many years. So, it’s certainly one input that I’ll consider.”

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