Will Evangelicals Deliver Cruz Victories in Iowa, South Carolina?

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Early primary state and national polling is showing the emergence of Sen. Ted Cruz as the candidate that could dethrone Donald Trump as the front-runner for the GOP nomination. In October, The New York Times ran a story highlighting the strong ground game being run by Sen. Cruz, particularly the fact that he has organizers in every county in the first four primary states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. That ground game is starting to pay dividends, especially in South Carolina. Check out what Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) told Politico:

“Ted Cruz has done perhaps the best job in the state, frankly,” said unaligned South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott of the Texas senator’s organization, going on to add, “It’s not going to help my friends who are serving with me, but the truth is the truth. He’s done a really good job laying the foundation for a really long time.”

This statement should not go without notice, especially coming from Scott, who remains a popular and influential elected official in South Carolina.

Cruz has been working hard to garner support from evangelicals and has been successful in Iowa and South Carolina with earning support from evangelical pastors. From Politico:

The Texas senator is ascendant in Iowa, largely on the strength of support from evangelical voters and the deep infrastructure he’s built in that community. On Monday he beat Donald Trump in one poll there, and has racked up a number of high-profile endorsements in that state, including from conservative hardliner congressman Steve King.

The South Carolina field looks to be more challenging, as Trump remains strong and Sen. Marco Rubio, boosted by a campaign staff with deep ties to the state, generates enthusiasm among both establishment voters and religious conservatives. Polls from November, the most recent available, had Cruz either third behind Trump and Ben Carson, or fourth behind Trump, Carson and Rubio – and few in the Palmetto State think Carson is doing that well anymore.

Now, there are signs that the same Christian conservatives-focused approach Cruz used to surge in Iowa, largely at Carson’s expense, is making him a formidable candidate in South Carolina as well, a state in which 65 percent of Republican primary voters in 2012 identified themselves in exit polls as “born-again or evangelical Christians.” Evangelicals are particularly concentrated here in the deeply religious Upstate region.

“It seems the evangelicals are coalescing,” said David Lane, an influential unaligned evangelical leader, who hosted Cruz on Monday at a private Pastors and Pews event in Greenville, speaking of Cruz support both in Iowa and South Carolina. “…It does seem Cruz has got the momentum, and 60 days out, that’s a good thing to have.”

He noted that Cruz is organized in all of South Carolina’s 46 counties, just as he is in all of Iowa’s 99 (he’s organized in every county in the first four voting states).

“He’s cooking with gas,” Lane added.

Terry Schilling is the executive director of American Principles in Action.