By Katie Gagliano
WINTERSET, Iowa — Iowa’s evangelicals seem to be behind Ted Cruz.
The Texas senator hosted a rally here Monday to conclude the opening day of his six day “Cruzin’ to the Caucus” campaign. Cruz will tour 36 counties in Iowa as part of his commitment to visit all 99 Iowa counties ahead of the Feb. 1 caucuses.
For Cruz, the tour is about tying up Iowa’s evangelical and social conservative vote. His Monday rally appealed to the evangelical base in attendance and solidified his stance as the most thoroughly Christian and conservative candidate in the race.
Cruz’s efforts in the state seem to be paying off.
Cruz rose in The Des Moines Register’s Dec. 12 poll, winning 31 percent of likely Republican caucus goers to Donald Trump’s 21 percent, Ben Carson’s 13 percent and Sen. Marco Rubio’s 10 percent. Cruz also earned the support of 45 percent of evangelicals polled.
Supporters filled the aisles and stood shoulder to shoulder to see Cruz. The Bontrager Family Singers, a Christian group from Iowa, began the evening with a performance of traditional Christian songs and Ted Cruz campaign anthems.
“Support Ted Cruz. Lead by integrity, not by every policy…” the Bontragers sang.
Matt Wells, Cruz’s Johnson County lead chairman, said the evangelical branch has been a key demographic driving Cruz’s success in the state.
“We’ve seen a lot of movement in that group,” Wells said. “It’s an area of the state where we’ve seen a lot of coalescing around Cruz.”
Cruz is the obvious representative for socially conservative values, Wells said.
“It’s what he’s been fighting for, not for political expediency, but for a long time since he started out,” Wells said.
Cruz’s passion has attracted volunteers from across the country, Wells said. The campaign is renting apartments in downtown Des Moines for out-of-state volunteers who come to support Cruz’s caucus campaign.
Cruz’s support isn’t limited to outsiders. The 99 Iowa Pastors movement is working to commit at least one pastor from each of Iowa’s 99 counties to organize their communities around Sen. Cruz. So far, 32 pastors in 19 counties have committed.
“We have the organization to crush the state of Iowa,” Wells said. “No one in Iowa has ever seen anything like this from a Republican.”
Endorsements from local leaders in conjunction with support from national evangelical and political leaders has helped Cruz in the state, Wells said.
U.S. Representative Steve King, of Iowa’s fourth district, is considered by many as a kingmaker in Iowa politics. He announced his endorsement of Cruz on Nov. 14.
“I prayed that God would raise up a leader that he will use to restore the soul of America, and I believe that man is Ted Cruz,” King said.
King was not the only social conservative leader who turned out to support Cruz Monday. Bob Vander Plaats, CEO of the conservative Christian advocacy group The Family Leader, spoke about Cruz and introduced the evening’s facilitator, Dr. James Dobson.
“There’s not a more trusted voice in all of America on family than Dr. James Dobson,” Vander Plaats said.
Dobson is a socially conservative evangelical leader who founded the non-profit Focus on the Family in 1977 and is currently hosting the radio talk show “Family Talk.” His radio broadcasts and books are widely distributed, and his “Focus on the Family” film series has been viewed 80 million times.
Dobson served as the mouthpiece for the social conservative movement, asking Cruz issue-based questions related to the key beliefs of many socially conservative evangelicals. The well-rehearsed exchange between Cruz and Dobson highlighted Cruz’s commitment to family values , faith and social conservatism at every opportunity.
Dobson has been politically active in lobbying for social conservative values since the 1980s and has previously endorsed George W. Bush in 2004, Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012.
Dobson’s formal endorsement of Cruz on Dec. 17 confirmed Cruz as the right choice for many socially conservative Christians.
Cecil Stinemetz, 60, of Urbandale, Iowa, has seen the effect of evangelical support on Cruz’s Iowa performance.
“The endorsements from Steve King and Vander Plaats helped a lot,” Stinemetz said. “That usually doesn’t happen. Dobson rarely endorses candidates. A lot of these people look up to these guys.”
Such is the case for Barb LaGrange, a 45-year-old teacher and mother of three from Winterset, Iowa. LaGrange is a strong Roman Catholic and was drawn to Cruz for his social policies and commitment to repeal Obamacare and end Common Core.
“His pro-life stance and his stance on the family are two of the reasons I think he’s a great choice,” LaGrange said. “He’s really bringing the focus back to families.”
The endorsements from prominent evangelicals reaffirmed the quality of Cruz’s character, LaGrange said.
“The people that support you are going to have the same values as you,” LaGrange said. “That’s going to say a lot about you, more than being surrounded by people with money and status.”