WEST DES MOINES, IOWA Republican presidential candidate Sam Brownback met Wednesday with influential evangelical leaders and said religious conservatives are moving in his direction as they learn more about his anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage views.
Brownback's meeting with 15 to 20 evangelical pastors came as the Kansas senator maps out his strategy for the Aug. 11 straw poll in Ames.
"It's typical in an election that people hold back and want to get a good feel for the candidate," Brownback said. "Now we're getting within eyeshot of Aug. 11 and they're breaking and a lot of them are breaking our way."
Although big-name candidates, such as Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, will skip the straw poll, the event will likely have a significant effect on the race for the GOP nomination. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is expected to finish first in the poll, and second-tier candidates like Brownback are looking to break from the pack.
Brownback said evangelical Christians are an essential part of his plan. "I think it's critical and I think we're doing pretty well," Brownback said. "We are reaching out aggressively to a number of communities and the evangelical is a key one of them."
Some evangelical pastors said Brownback's staunchly conservative message resonates with their congregations.
The Rev. Bob Deever, of Grace West Church in West Des Moines, said he appreciates Brownback's focus on family.
"He has the right heart, and family is very much faith-based," Deever said.
Nick Bal, of Walnut Creek Evangelical Church in West Des Moines, said, "People just need to know about him."
Evangelical Christians have played an important role in Iowa Republican politics since the 1987-88 presidential election.
TV evangelist Pat Robertson won the straw poll in that cycle, then finished second in the caucuses. Though he faded as the primary season unfolded, the strength of evangelicals in the state's GOP politics remains.