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GOP Event Underscores That Religious Voters Aren't Forgotten

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GOP Event Underscores That Religious Voters Aren't Forgotten

GOP Event Underscores That Religious Voters Aren't Forgotten

GOP Event Underscores That Religious Voters Aren't Forgotten

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GOP presidential candidates spoke about faith and politics at a Dallas-area megachurch on Sunday. The event reaffirmed that those voters' and their issues will matter in this election.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And a mega-church near Dallas invited every presidential candidate, Democrat and Republican, to a forum on faith and politics yesterday. Six showed up. NPR's Sam Sanders was there too and has this report.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Hours before the North Texas Presidential Forum kicked off in Plano, Texas, at Prestonwood Baptist Church you could tell easily who the big star of the show would be.

MAGGIE WRIGHT: My sign says Ted Cruz for president in 2016. He is the only one that can help us to lead us to take our country back.

SANDERS: Maggie Wright was one of several Cruz supporters outside of the church waiting to see Cruz arrive.

WRIGHT: We've already talked to his driver to tell him, you bring Ted this way. We're waving signs for you (laughter).

SANDERS: It made sense that Cruz supporters were there in strong numbers. The Texas senator was on his home turf. Prestonwood Baptist seats thousands, and it was packed. Conservative activist Ralph Reed was there. And he perhaps best summed up what this event was about, a rallying call for conservative evangelical voters, a group whose turnout has dropped in the last few elections. Reed said evangelicals tens of millions strong could shift this election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RALPH REED: That is larger than the African-American vote, the Latino vote, the feminist vote, the gay vote and the union vote combined.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, there you go.

REED: Just that one vote.

SANDERS: Each candidate appeared separately, talked for 10 minutes, then took questions from the pastor. All of the six candidates there - Cruz, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee - played up their connection to evangelicals, in part by reaffirming their faith. Carly Fiorina did it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARLY FIORINA: I have battled breast cancer. I have buried a child. And through it all, the love of my family and my personal relationship with Jesus Christ has seen me through.

SANDERS: And Ted Cruz did too. He talked about how his once absent father gave his life to Christ and then came back home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TED CRUZ: If it were not for the redemptive love of Jesus Christ, I would've been raised by a single mom without my dad in the house.

SANDERS: And Rick Santorum.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICK SANTORUM: Now, some of you may know I'm a Catholic. But I'm an evangelical Catholic.

SANDERS: Neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BEN CARSON: And I said, Lord, you be the neurosurgeon, and I'll be the hands.

SANDERS: And Jeb Bush.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEB BUSH: I decided to read the Bible from cover to cover. And I got about halfway through Romans, and I realized that Jesus was my savior.

SANDERS: Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee pointed that he's a former Baptist pastor. They talked about issues too. Carly Fiorina drew applause when she spoke out against abortion and Planned Parenthood. Mike Huckabee talked about standing with Kentucky clerk Kim Davis when she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The toughest question from Pastor Jack Graham went to Jeb Bush.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JACK GRAHAM: Is Jeb Bush a conservative?

SANDERS: Bush said he is, that he defends free markets and individual responsibility and freedom for schools.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUSH: The federal government should have no say in the creation of content, curriculum, standards. That's a totally state issue.

SANDERS: But Cruz drew the most applause by tying ISIS, abortion, gay marriage and more to the idea that these issues represent an attack on Christians' religious freedom.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRUZ: If believers are staying home, if we are allowing our leaders to be elected by nonbelievers, is it any wonder we have a federal government that is assaulting life and marriage and religious liberty?

(APPLAUSE)

SANDERS: Cruz and the other candidates' remarks were really warning conservative Christian voters across the country that they need to fight back with their vote, preferably for one of those candidates who took that church stage. Sam Sanders, NPR News, Plano, Texas.

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