Des Moines, Iowa (CNN) – Regarding Mitt Romney's planned no-show at a weekend gathering of Christian conservatives in Iowa, an influential evangelical insisted it is not a "threatening environment."
"Tell me what there is to fear by coming to this event?" Steve Scheffler said.
Scheffler is president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition. His group is hosting a presidential forum in Des Moines on Saturday that will feature an estimated 1,000 attendees. Also slated to attend are Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and six Republican presidential candidates: Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.
It is for those reasons that Scheffler is urging the former Massachusetts governor to also attend.
"I've been kind of holding my tongue until today," Scheffler said. In the next breath, the conservative Christian let loose.
"In Romney's case, I think it's because probably he doesn't want to be there," Scheffler speculated.
"Tell me what there is to fear by coming to this event - to making their case?" he continued. "Why have the six other candidates accepted and the perceived front-runner decided not to come?"
Saying that his group has "bent over backwards to tell [the Romney campaign] this is not a threatening environment," Scheffler said. "I have to conclude that they don't feel comfortable in this arena."
CNN pressed Scheffler to explain his claim.
The organizer began by mentioning Romney's Thursday visit to Iowa where he attended three events.
"One that drew 36 people," Scheffler said, citing an unconfirmed count. "And he's elected not to come to an event that's going to have 1,000 people? Apparently he does not want to be in a setting with social and economic conservatives, I guess."
According to Scheffler, the Romney campaign "says they don't want to do 'cattle calls,'" referring to the political phrase often used to describe a mass gathering of candidates.
It's unclear Romney's reason for deciding against the event. CNN repeatedly reached out to Romney's campaign but did not receive a response.
What is clear is that Romney has attended many large gatherings of social conservatives. For example, some two weeks ago, Romney spoke to the Values Voter Summit in Washington D.C. – even after an influential pastor called Romney's Mormon faith "a cult." In February, before declaring his presidential bid, Romney attended the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. Some 11,000 social conservatives attended the three-day forum and many of them warmly welcomed Romney.
CNN reminded Scheffler of Romney's most recent conservative summit appearance.
"So what? This is Iowa. I don't care if he was at that," Scheffler said.
"I'm telling you this is Iowa. This is going to be a swing state. The average …social conservative doesn't say, 'Oh, in my memory bank, by the way: he was at the national Faith and Freedom Coalition. They want to know that he was here in Iowa. Period."
And Scheffler warned that Romney's no-show could hurt in a general election.
"If he's the nominee and he's basically talking to one constituency, not another – especially in an important swing state like Iowa – I think that's a major mistake."