Trump skips Iowa Faith and Freedom event while rivals eye opportunity

Nine Republican hopefuls gathered in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday in hopes of winning over evangelical voters. The annual Faith and Freedom Coalition banquet welcomed candidates including Florida Governor Ron Desantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.Most notably not there was the GOP frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, who has skipped similar large Iowa events in April and June.Over 1,000 Iowa Republicans showed up, eager to hear from the presidential candidates, with a significant portion being Christian conservatives.Once again it starts in Iowa and it depends on you, Republican Iowa Gov. Reynolds told the crowd. Are you ready to take our country back?This banquet is Iowa evangelicals' final chance to see candidates together, and the candidates will be allotted 10 minutes each to address voters on critical issues.Despite Trump's absence from key events, his early GOP primary lead remains strong. His popularity among Iowa's evangelical Christians and social conservatives poses a significant challenge to his rivals.A Des Moines Register poll last month showed that Donald Trump has about 47% of the support of evangelicals, with Ron DeSantis coming in second.Abortion is usually key at Iowa Faith and Freedom events, but candidates are also expected to talk about gender identity issues in schools, a rising concern for conservatives.SEE MORE: 2024 election primed to have the fewest swing states in recent history