DES MOINES, Iowa — Republican White House hopefuls are courting influential religious conservatives at an event in Iowa marking the unofficial start of the state’s 2024 caucus campaign.

The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual spring fundraiser on Saturday night will draw, among others, former President Donald Trump, who is already a candidate, as well as former Vice President Mike Pence and US Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. , who are expected to enter the race. Trump will appear via video. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, considered one of Trump’s main rivals, will not attend.

The event organized by a Christian group gives presidential candidates the chance to pitch their proposal to evangelicals in a state where Republicans will begin the nomination process next year. It’s also a chance to impress activists who may be open to an alternative to Trump at a time when he is mired in legal trouble and was recently indicted in New York in a secret money scheme involving a porn actor.

The meeting comes as abortion rights have re-emerged as a key election issue after the Conservatives achieved their long-cherished goal of repealing the landmark Roe last year. against the Wade ruling, which had affirmed the federal right to abortion.

The Republican presidential camp is trying to understand how far supporting procedural restrictions can go to satisfy the conservative base in the primary, but without further alienating general election voters, most of whom support the legalization of abortion.

On Thursday, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, the nation’s leading anti-abortion group, condemned Trump’s position that abortion restrictions should be left to the states, not the federal government. The group called it a «morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate,» a sharp rebuke of a former president whose Supreme Court nominations led to Roe’s removal from office.

The anti-abortion group has said it will not support any White House candidate who does not back at least a 15-week federal ban on abortion.

Despite the credit Trump received for his judicial nominations, he came under fire after last year’s election for saying Republicans’ underperformance was due to opponents of abortion opposing exceptions for women who became pregnant by rape or incest or whose life was in danger.

All of the Republicans running or moving toward the nomination have supported the state’s abortion bans. Most have been much more cautious about betting on a nationwide ban.

Scott has said he would support a federal law banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. On Saturday he has the opportunity to share his calls to unite the nation around the Christian faith and hope, a message that differs from the confrontational tone of Trump and DeSantis.

Pence, whose advocacy group has lobbied for Congress to pass legislation that includes a nationwide ban on abortions after six weeks, regularly speaks of his Christian faith in speeches. Like Scott, he has regularly visited evangelical pastors during his early trips to Iowa, with the goal of establishing a relationship with clergy that can be influential in their churches among politically active social conservatives.

They are among the most well-known Republican prospects set to address the coalition group during moderated question-and-answer conversations. Also scheduled to appear are businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, radio host Larry Elder, former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, former Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Perry Johnson.

Earlier on Saturday, Pence planned to meet with a group of Republican women, while Scott would meet with US Representative Zach Nunn at a farm south of Des Moines.