Republican presidential candidates take note: the clout of social and religious conservatives is growing in politically crucial Iowa. And these activists are driving the debate here toward cultural issues — and away from the economy — just as the GOP sets out to find an opponent for President Barack Obama.

“They’ve gotten more involved in the party,” said Norm Pawlewski, a lobbyist for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition. “I’ve seen a change in the kind of people who are volunteering — and not only volunteering but working.”

With Obama’s re-election race looming next year, this constituency — made up heavily of evangelical Christians — is intent on playing a major role in choosing the winner of next year’s Iowa GOP caucuses. It’s seeking a repeat of 2008 when it coalesced around the underfunded former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to give the Southern Baptist minister a surprise first place finish.

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