Polling in Iowa indicates a very close, very tight race between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. The difference maker could be the influential evangelical Christian voting bloc in Iowa which both Republicans are currently trying to court.
Despite his limited talk of faith, many evangelicals are finding a home with Trump. Report from the New York Times:
Buford Arning, a retired building supply executive in Statesville, N.C., went to church each week until a pinched nerve made it hard for him to leave his house. He believes in living a faith-filled life. But he does not demand piety of his preferred presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump.
“Am I a Bible toter that gets out and preaches on the side of the street and tries to convert everybody? No,” said Mr. Arning, 62, who calls himself an evangelical voter. He said he believed that Mr. Trump was “a Christian man,” and that was good enough.
Mr. Trump may not be as spiritually minded as former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, who was a Southern Baptist minister, “but I think his values are very much the same,” Mr. Arning said.
“His personal life is saintlike compared to Bill Clinton’s,” he added.
Brash, thrice-married, cosseted in a gilded tower high above Fifth Avenue and fond of swearing from the stage at his rallies, Mr. Trump, who has spent his career in pursuit, and praise, of wealth, would seem an odd fit for voters who place greater value on faith, hope and charity.
Yet polls increasingly show Mr. Trump well in front of the crowded Republican field among white evangelical voters.
Trump wouldn’t seem like the right fit for many devoted Christians. As mentioned in the piece, his multiple marriages and general temperament don’t jive fully with what is typically sought after by socially conservative voters. However, Trump is making it happen despite a heavy onslaught from Ted Cruz.
For his part, Cruz has been heavily pushing his faith as a reason, above many reasons, why he is fit to carry the conservative mantle. Report from the Dallas Morning News:
The Texas senator and son of a Carrollton pastor is sticking to religion, even in New Hampshire. The voting population there is heavy with libertarians and is not as influenced by evangelicals as the small towns in Iowa, where Cruz has had success in the polls.
“For too long there has been a spirit of fear and timidity in Washington,” Cruz told The Dallas Morning News on the second day of his New Hampshire tour. “We should not be ashamed of Christ. We should be willing to speak the truth with a smile.”
Cruz said the nation must return to its Judeo-Christian roots.
“Pulling this country back from the cliff we’re facing will require us remembering who we are, rediscovering those values that built America in the first place,” he said.
That has been Cruz’s mantra for months, and along the way he’s climbed in the polls for what’s fast becoming a two-way race with New York businessman Donald Trump.
On paper, Cruz should win this battle having gone so far as to announce his campaign at Liberty University last year, a haven for modern evangelical Christianity. Polling up to this point shows that he isn’t closing the deal. Despite his shortfalls, Trump has been able to talk his way into the hearts of many “values voters” despite his actions in the past not always matching his words.
I think this indicates a desire to win more than a desire to elect the “most” Christian candidate. Trump has made certain to praise Christian leaders and grants interviews to Christian media outlets. I don’t think many voters consider him devoutly religious, or even fairly religious. I think they consider him respectful of Christianity to the point where they’d feel comfortable with Trump at the helm if it means keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House.
The current rumor is that former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin will show up in Iowa today with Trump for an official endorsement. That could further change the race in Trump’s favor as well.