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Donald Trump, Hoping To Slow Ted Cruz’s Surge, Makes Inroads With Evangelicals

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Donald Trump, Hoping To Slow Ted Cruz’s Surge, Makes Inroads With Evangelicals

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Muscatine

By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

In the final days before Iowans begin the presidential nominating process, Donald Trump, whose candidacy has perplexed and enlivened various factions of the Republican Party, is focused on shoring up the support of the state’s evangelical voters who could propel him to victory and bolster his momentum in the upcoming primaries.

Trump announced Tuesday the endorsement of Jerry Falwell Jr., an influential evangelical leader and president of Liberty University, who called the billionaire businessman a “successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”

The endorsement from Falwell comes a week after former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin tossed her support behind the billionaire’s candidacy. Palin has a strong following of evangelical and tea party supporters.

Each of those endorsements arrives as Trump seeks to slow the surge of his top rival in Iowa, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has strong support from evangelicals.

“It’s all calculated and really shows how he can morph himself so that he’s appealing,” Steffen Schmidt, a professor of political science at Iowa State University, said of Trump’s support from Falwell and Palin. “He does what he needs to. … He’s not a tried and true politician, but … in many ways, he has become a politician. Has Trump ever talked about evangelicals in his career? I would say not so much.”

Indeed, over the weekend Trump attended church in Iowa and last week he spoke at the invocation at Falwell’s Liberty University.

National polls show Trump is succeeding in winning over evangelicals—who are also influential in South Carolina, another state with an early vote. An NBC News/Survey Monkey poll released Tuesday showed Trump with 37 percent support from white evangelicals nationwide, while Cruz had 20 percent, a 9 percent drop since last week.

Still, a mix of state and national polls reveals the race for evangelical support appears to be a toss-up.

A Quinnipiac University poll of likely Iowa GOP caucusgoers released on Tuesday showed Cruz leading Trump among evangelicals, 39 percent to 27 percent.

On Tuesday, Trump went on the attack against Bob Vander Plaats, a powerful Iowa evangelical leader who endorsed Cruz. Vander Plaats is head of the faith-based group the Family Leader and a staunch opponent of abortion, and his endorsement was courted heavily by Cruz and Trump.

“Why doesn’t phony Vander Plaats tell his followers all the times he asked for him and his family to stay at my hotels,” Trump tweeted.

Cruz in recent weeks has battled Trump over the senator’s presidential eligibility (Cruz was born in Canada to an American mother and Cuban father) and his positions on immigration. The Texan has sought to cast Trump as a faux conservative whose Christian beliefs should be questioned.

A super PAC supporting Cruz released a television ad on Monday in Iowa castigating Trump for his past views on abortion, which cites a 1999 interview in which Trump notes he’s “pro-choice in every respect.”

“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 warned pastors at a private meeting in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, earlier in the week.

Katie Packer, a Republican strategist who is unaligned in the 2016 presidential race but whose super PAC operates a website questioning Trump on various issues, said the businessman’s endorsements are an effort to validate his support among evangelicals.

“But his record—on issues like abortion—is not steadfast,” Packer said. “He’s wavered a lot.”

©2016 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Muscatine, Iowa, United States, January 24, 2016.   REUTERS/Jim Young

 

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8 Comments

  1. The lucky one January 28, 2016

    It’s laughable that some still think Trump is an alternative to politics as usual. He is clearly as much of a political huckster as any of the other candidates.

    Reply
  2. greenlantern1 January 28, 2016

    Is the BOOK OF MORMON a best seller in Iowa?

    Reply
  3. jmprint January 28, 2016

    A vote for Trump from any religious leader shows that he is a false profit, very simple.
    God and Jesus Christ are not about hate, most republicans ARE.

    Reply
    1. mike January 28, 2016

      Baloney! Anger politically but not hate.
      Prophet, right?

      Reply
      1. pmbalele January 28, 2016

        Trump is GOP hero. Don Trump is right to refuse FoxNews debate. And I am pleased Trump did not back down on Bill O’rielly today. Reagan was the same. He refused stupid questions from news people. And especially Bill O’rielly who thinks his mouth is powerful to influence people to vote for anybody. Look, Bill O started the Benghazi and E-mail issues. Repubs in Congress were scared of Bill O and took to investigating those as scandals-spending $20 mi. Those were not scandals. Thank God Trump refused this non sense from FoxNews and Bill O’rielly. Trump is no buffoon. And that is how he is going to deal with domestic and foreign issues.

        Reply
        1. mike January 28, 2016

          Trump far from hero of the right much like Sanders is not the hero on the left both a symptom of anger in America.
          Bill did not out Hillary’s server, which the left wants to ignore, or emails, it was NYT’s!

          Reply
  4. FireBaron January 28, 2016

    So the twice-divorce, thrice-married, Bible-misquoting Elder of the Church of Mamon (Reformed), Wall Street Synod, still is trying to capture the evangelical vote.

    Reply
  5. pmbalele January 28, 2016

    Iowans will be stupid to vote for Ted Cruz a Canadian-born citizen. Cruz wants USA be province of Canada. Then USA will be under the Queen of England. This will be an insult to the immigrants from England who ran away from the tyrants. Please stay away from Cruz. He will sell this Country to England.

    Reply

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