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AMES - As they arrived at an all-day cattle call of conservative presidential hopefuls, Christian conservatives were greeted by demonstrators from the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers who sought to convince Republicans that the party's rhetoric was pushing atheists away as voters.
'They're telling me they don't want me in their party,” said John Fruetel, of Newton, who was part of a protest outside of Stephens Auditorium in Ames where more than 2,500 people were arriving to hear from the 2016 GOP candidates at the 2015 Family Leadership Summit. Fruetel said he identifies as a conservative on many issues except social ones. Amanda Knief, national legal and public policy director for American Atheists, joined the group. She said the point was not to put Christians down but to make them aware that they were isolating a significant voting bloc.
'The reaction's been mixed,” Knief said.
The Family Leadership Summit brought together major names vying for the Republican presidential nomination: Sen. Marco Rubio, businessman Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Gov. Rick Perry, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Rick Santorum and Gov. Scott Walker.
Pollster and political consultant Frank Luntz interviewed the candidates in front of the audience, which is a key constituency of the Republican Party of Iowa. In 2012, they accounted for nearly 60 percent of GOP caucusgoers.
At the start of the summit, Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of the Family Leader, said 2,954 tickets were taken for attendance. This is the fourth annual Family Leadership Summit.