Ted Cruz Winning Battle for Evangelicals in Iowa But Losing War Nationally to Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives for service at First Presbyterian C
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

A recent Iowa poll, released on Tuesday by Quinnipiac, shows the overall race between Trump and Cruz is a virtual dead heat (Trump’s 31 to 29 lead is within the poll’s margin of error).

But among white evangelicals, who make up 57 percent of GOP caucus attendees, Cruz’s lead over Trump is substantial – 39 percent to 27 percent.

In the Monmouth Poll of likely GOP caucus goers released on Wednesday, Trump leads Cruz 30 percent to 23 percent. Among evangelicals, however, Cruz leads Trump by 7 points, 32 percent to 25 percent.

Where Trump and Cruz stand among evangelicals matters because the candidate who wins with that influential group of caucus goers in Iowa is likely to emerge as the overall caucus winner.

Nationally, the story is quite different. The latest national poll, conducted by NBC and Survey Monkey, shows Trump leads Cruz nationally among white evangelicals by 17 points, 37 percent to 20 percent.

Trump’s national lead among evangelicals is not found in Iowa for one simple reason – Cruz and his evangelical pastor father Rafael Cruz – have developed an extensive network of pastors in Iowa who support his candidacy. In Iowa, more so than any place in the country, these pastors have made a religious pitch to members of their congregation to that equates to political support for Ted Cruz.

Some of these pastors are making the pitch to support Cruz on caucus night from the pulpit during church services.

As the New York Times reported earlier this month, “[o]n Sunday, Pastor Bradley Cranston stood at his pulpit in Burlington, Iowa, and, citing Exodus 18:21 (“select out of all the people able men who fear God … as leaders”), endorsed Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, urging his parishioners to also consider voting for him.”

While such outright mixing of religion and politics presumably may offend supporters of other candidates in attendance at Pastor Cranston’s church, it is an accepted practice among some pastors backing Cruz.

Trump has picked up a number of high profile endorsements this month that will resonate with Iowa evangelicals—Sarah Palin earlier this month and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. on Tuesday. It is unclear if these endorsements will be sufficient to rival Cruz’s enormous get-out-the-vote grassroots apparatus that is anchored by dozens of local pastors that have been laboring in the political fields and religious gatherings in Iowa with their congregation for more than a year.

The support of the well known evangelical leader, son of the late Jerry Falwell, Sr., founder of the Moral Majority, could be a significant boost to Trump’s chances in Iowa and a disappointment to Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump’s top rival in Iowa, who is banking on a huge turnout among evangelicals who support his candidacy on caucus night to secure what a victory.

Trump’s appeal to evangelical Christians is not because he is one of them. As a mainline Presbyterian, he doesn’t fit the definition of an evangelical Christian— someone who is born again in Christ (conversionism), has a personal relationship with Jesus who died for our sins (crucicentrism), believes the Bible is the inerrant word of God (Biblicism) and has a duty to spread the good news of Jesus to non-believers (activism). Instead, it is based on their belief that he is a man of conviction, and will honor his word when it comes to his promises to build a wall and secure the borders.

Thrice divorced, and not a regular church attendee, Trump gets a pass from many evangelicals for his obvious unfamiliarity with the language of evangelical believers.

At Liberty University earlier this month, Trump famously referred to a passage from the New Testament as “Two Corinthians” rather than the more familiar “Second Corinthians,” the language form most familiar to anyone who has ever sat through a sermon at an evangelical church.

He also used unfamiliar language when he told CNN’s Jake Tapper a week ago Sunday “I have a great relationship with God,” rather than the more familiar profession of faith used by almost every born again evangelical of a “personal relationship with God.”

This past Sunday, Trump attended a church service at the First Presbyterian Church of Muscatine, Iowa, a church that is part of the mainline liberal Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination, with which Trump himself apparently identifies. To anyone familiar with the increasingly left wing politics of the hierarchy of that denomination, it came as no surprise that the pastor, Dr. Rev. Pamela Saturina, referenced Syrian refugees in her sermon.

Though this was characterized as a direct attack on Trump’s proposed temporary ban on Muslim immigration by the Washington Post, it was really a more nuanced critique of Christians failing to “show the favor of Jesus” to Syrian refugees, an argument that could apply to the provision of safe resettlement zones in other countries as well as the United States.

Nonetheless, it is unlikely that Saturnia or the leadership of that denomination approve of Trump’s proposed policies.

The liberal mainline denomination, Presbyterian Church (USA) has “denominational offices in Louisville, Kentucky… approximately 2.3 million members, more than 10,000 congregations and 14,000 ordained and active ministers.”

In 1973, a group of evangelicals, dismayed at what they believed to be the unscriptural and liberal political orientations of the Presbyterian Church (USA) spun off and formed the Presbyterian Church in America, which has denominational offices in Lawrenceville, Georgia and approximately 335,000 members and more than 1,700 congregations around the world, ten of which are in Iowa.

It details the denomination’s origins on its website:

Organized at a constitutional assembly in December 1973, this church was first known as the National Presbyterian Church but changed its name in 1974 to Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). It separated from the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Southern) in opposition to the long-developing theological liberalism which denied the deity of Jesus Christ and the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. Additionally, the PCA held to the traditional position on the role of women in church offices…

The PCA is one of the faster growing denominations in the United States, with over 1700 churches and missions throughout the USA and Canada. There were over 335,000 communicant and non-communicant members as of December 2000.

One Ancient Hope Presbyterian Church, which is affiliated with the evangelical Presbyterian Church in America, is located in Iowa City, Iowa, some 43 miles from the liberal Presbyterian Church (USA) Trump attended in Muscatine, Iowa on Sunday.

Trump’s unfamiliarity with the language and terrain of the evangelical network of Iowa contrasts with Cruz’s strategy of literally “embedding” within that community.

Cruz has also appeared frequently private gatherings of pastors sponsored by the American Renewal Project, which, as CBN reports “has been a driving force in presidential politics by mobilizing pastors to run for political office and having presidential candidates speak before hundreds of pastors.”

“Cruz has spoken at a number of events. Marco Rubio did a similar event back in November,” CBN notes.

As CBN reported recently:

In video obtained exclusively by The Brody File, Ted Cruz says it’s up to Iowa pastors to stop Donald Trump from winning the Iowa Caucus or the billionaire from New York will be, unstoppable. “If Donald wins Iowa, he right now has a substantial lead in New Hampshire, if he went on to win New Hampshire as well, there is a very good chance he could be unstoppable and be our nominee,” Cruz told pastors at a private meeting in Cedar Rapids this afternoon. Cruz also pleaded with them to support him for one very notable reason. “Even if you’re thinking about another candidate, the simple reality is there’s only one campaign that can beat Trump in this state, and if conservatives simply stand up and unite, that’s everything.”

The New York Times also reported earlier this month on Cruz’s extensive involvement with the Iowa evangelical community:

Mr. Cruz’s success in consolidating evangelical Christian voters, which has helped propel him to front-runner status in Iowa, reflects how he has methodically and painstakingly pursued the Christian right here since he announced his presidential candidacy in March at Liberty University in Virginia, the evangelical institution founded by Jerry Falwell. He has sewn up endorsements of crucial Iowa evangelicals; deployed his pastor father, Rafael Cruz, as a surrogate; and activated networks of faith-driven voters like pastors and home-school families, which in a caucus state like Iowa are important in turning out voters.

“We have a networking ability that campaigns spend years and years trying to build,” said Mr. Brown, who has taken on the kind of organizing tasks that a campaign normally would.

With the first nominating contest just over three weeks away, on Feb. 1, Mr. Cruz is poised to benefit from the organizing muscle of evangelicals, the most influential bloc of Republican caucusgoers in Iowa, who ensured the winners in 2008 and 2012. He will need their support with recent polls showing a tightening of the race with Donald J. Trump, who last week injected a volatile new element into the race by questioning Mr. Cruz’s eligibility to be president because of his Canadian birth.

Although Mr. Brown does not plan to endorse Mr. Cruz from his pulpit, which is controversial because of the tax-exempt status of religious institutions, he broadcasts his support in other ways — from displaying a Cruz bumper sticker on his car to speaking on Mr. Cruz’s behalf at meetings of the Republican committee at the county courthouse. “A pastor in Iowa is out in the community,” Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Cruz has won over many evangelical voters in Iowa through both pluck and luck. Although he has spent a year aggressively courting them, Mr. Cruz has benefited recently from the decline of Ben Carson, who briefly led Iowa polls thanks to evangelical support, then saw those voters swing to Mr. Cruz after questions arose about Mr. Carson’s grasp of foreign policy.

Mr. Cruz first stirred Iowa crowds in March at a Pastors and Pews event, and later at a Christian home-schoolers convention and a Faith & Freedom forum. He seized on the issue of “religious liberty” — the right of business owners, for example, to refuse services for gay weddings — and drew thousands to rallies in Iowa and South Carolina.

Last month, Mr. Cruz won the endorsement of the most influential leader of Iowa’s politically activist evangelicals, Bob Vander Plaats.

Trump has picked a Twitter fight with Vander Plaats, an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate in Iowa and head of a group called Faith Leader. In 2012, Vander Plaats’ endorsement of Rick Santorum, who eventually won the Iowa caucuses that year, was shrouded in controversy amidst claims that he had asked for money to make the endorsement.

As Breitbart News reported earlier this week:

GOP frontrunner Donald Trump is taking a swipe on Twitter at Bob Vander Plaats — who previously endorsed GOP candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Trump posted:

Vander Plaats is CEO of The Family Leader – a socially conservative organization –  and a prominent conservative in Iowa.

While Trump uses Twitter, large rallies, and high profile endorsements to build support among GOP caucus goers, the Cruz campaign continues to focus on its very local grassroots get-out-the-vote campaign focused on evangelicals and home schooling families.

In a press release on Tuesday, the Cruz campaign emphasized its efforts there:

Today, the Cruz for President campaign announced it has 1,573 caucus captains across the state. The announcement marks the final milestone in Cruz’s impressive Iowa organization. The campaign is putting its massive Iowa organization to the test this week by mobilizing the grassroots and turning them out to caucus for Cruz.

Leading up to the Iowa Caucus on February 1, the Cruz for President campaign has put together an unmatched ground game throughout the Hawkeye state. It has named a county chair for each of Iowa’s 99 counties. The campaign has recruited 247 notable activists, pastors, and lawmakers including Congressman Steve King, Bob Vander Plaats, Steve Deace, and Cruz’s chairman Matt Schultz, former Iowa Secretary of State.

As of last week, over 12,000 volunteers have signed on and are now working to identify and turn out caucus goers for Cruz. Volunteers, on average, are making up to 20,000 phone calls and knocking on 2,000 doors every day. During the month of January, 836 people will have stayed at Camp Cruz, the former college dorms that are filled beyond capacity with volunteers from all over the country, some tripling up in rooms using air mattresses.

“In my experience the Cruz organizational effort here in Iowa is unrivaled,” said Bryan English, the Cruz campaign’s Iowa state director. “We have coalesced conservatives from across the state because they want a conservative leader who will change Washington, break the DC Cartel, and bring power back to ‘We the People’.”

This week, Cruz will be barnstorming the state holding 30 public events in 22 counties leading up to the caucuses. By Monday, he will have completed the ‘Full Grassley,’ visiting and holding events in all 99 counties in the state. Over the course of the campaign, Cruz has met thousands of Iowans who have come out to his events. He has made it a point to spend time listening to and getting to know the people of Iowa face to face. Governor Rick Perry, who endorsed Cruz earlier in the week, will be attending events today with Cruz along with Bob Vander Plaats and Congressman Steve King.

In addition to Iowa-based volunteers, dozens of Cruz volunteers from other states are pouring into the Hawkeye State this week to help out with Monday evening’s caucuses. The outcome on Monday night is still very much in doubt, but one thing is clear. If Cruz does not pull out the victory, it will not be for lack of organizational effort.


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