Waukee, Iowa (CNN)Iowa voters sat fanning themselves with folded-up programs Saturday night as they listened to nearly four hours of speeches from a slew of Republican presidential candidates and potential contenders.
Getting personal, Republicans talk faith in Iowa
With the heat turned up as the temperature dropped outside, close to 1,500 people packed into Point of Grace church in Waukee for the Iowa Faith in Freedom summit, where nine possible White House hopefuls shared their personal stories about faith and attacked Democrats for what they see as threats to religious liberty.
Also woven throughout the speeches was a sharp disdain for the Obama administration's handling of national security, in particular when it comes to ISIS and the terror group's murder of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa.
In conversations after the event, voters mentioned Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Carly Fiorina as the night's stand-out performers. But in terms of support, most felt torn among the bevy of candidates, saying it's far too early to back one particular person.
"I have not even come close to making up my mind," said Pat Mincer, who made the two-hour drive from Iowa City to attend the event.
Evangelical Christians are a significant voting bloc in Iowa and carry strong influence in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. The past two winners of the Iowa caucuses were boosted by turnout among Christian conservatives.
Same-sex marriage was a big topic Saturday night, with the event taking place just weeks after a debate over an Indiana religious liberty law dominated the national dialogue and ultimately led to a tweak in the law's language to specify that its purpose was not to allow discrimination against same-sex couples.
Cruz argued that the backlash from the law's opponents was proof of "liberal fascism" in the Democratic Party against Christians, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee doubled down on his belief that critics of religious liberty laws are "criminalizing Christianity" by saying an act of conscience could be labeled discrimination.
Jindal, whose state of Louisiana is currently considering a religious liberty bill, told the crowd that he would not back down from those who are lobbying against such laws, including corporations.
"The United States of America did not create religious liberty. Religious liberty created the United States of America," Jindal said to loud applause.
While same-sex marriage was the most frequently discussed social issue of the night, a number of speakers also touched on abortion. Sen. Rand Paul highlighted his recent spat with DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz over abortion rights.
"I'm tired of us retreating on this issue, and I'm going to push back," he pledged.
And at a time when a growing number of Christians face execution from terrorists overseas, some potential White House hopefuls also focused on criticizing the Obama administration for failing to defeat ISIS.
The fact that the United States didn't stop ISIS from taking over northern Iraq is "offensive to those of us who realize that our role is to defend (Western) values around the world," former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said.
Sen. Marco Rubio and former Sen. Rick Santorum were warmly received when they blasted the controversial negotiations over Iran's nuclear development program. "How can it be that our president shows more respect for ayatollah in Iran than our allies in Israel?" asked Rubio.
Paul — who, like Rubio and Cruz, has already declared his presidential bid — slammed the government for sending foreign aid to countries that have a record of persecuting Christians. "It's a crime and it ought to stop," he said.
The event also gave candidates a chance to talk at length about their own faith. Perry, whose 2012 presidential bid quickly flamed out after a series of gaffes and mistakes, delivered a sermon-like address on the importance of second chances in Christianity, referencing Biblical figures like Moses, King David and Paul the Apostle.
"I'm a good example of somebody that got a second chance," Perry said at one point and later argued that "America is ready for a second chance" in the years after Obama leaves office.
Jindal opened his remarks by sharing his testimony of becoming a born-again Christian in a decision that he said took him seven years to make. "The single most important moment in my life is the moment I found Jesus Christ and the moment he found me."
"Our God is an awesome God, amen?" he said, receiving a robust "Amen" from the audience.
For her part, Fiorina said her and her husband's relationship with God helped save them "from a desperate sadness" when they lost their adult daughter a few years ago to addiction.
And Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the son of a preacher, walked on stage with a copy of the devotional "Jesus Calling" and read a passage that he said helped him when he was facing a recall in 2012.