Ted Cruz Rallies Evangelicals In Campaign To Defund Planned Parenthood : It's All Politics Religious voters are a key for Republicans running for president. One candidate — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — is making a bold play for them, promising to campaign on defunding Planned Parenthood.
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Ted Cruz Rallies Evangelicals In Campaign To Defund Planned Parenthood

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Ted Cruz Rallies Evangelicals In Campaign To Defund Planned Parenthood

Ted Cruz Rallies Evangelicals In Campaign To Defund Planned Parenthood

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In every presidential election, Republicans court evangelical voters, especially in Iowa. This year, evangelicals could have an even bigger impact because more than half a dozen southern states will hold their primaries on the same day in March just a month after Iowa votes. One candidate is making a bold early effort to win them over - Texas Senator Ted Cruz. NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea looks at how he's going after them.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Ted Cruz's latest pitch to evangelical Christian voters came in a conference call with church pastors just this afternoon.

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TED CRUZ: This is an incredible gathering of faith leaders across the country, of pastors who are standing up and answering the call.

GONYEA: When it's not a conference call, it's a bus tour across the South or a rally in Des Moines this past weekend where Christian rock music blared from the loudspeakers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL CREATURES OF OUR GOD AND KING")

DAVID CROWDER BAND: (Singing) All creatures of our God and king.

GONYEA: Cruz took the stage sounding just like a preacher at a mega church.

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CRUZ: You know, the word tells us where two or more are gathered in his name, he will be with us.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: His message - that religious freedom is under attack, that business owners opposed to same-sex marriage are under fire because they don't want to provide services, flowers, catering or event space to such ceremonies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRUZ: There is a war on faith in America today.

GONYEA: In the conference call and at every campaign event, Cruz attacks Planned Parenthood, highlighting a recent series of undercover videos from an antiabortion rights group accusing the organization of selling fetal tissue from abortions for profit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRUZ: I don't have to remind anyone here of the atrocities committed each and every day by Planned Parenthood. These videos that have been made public make vivid what we already knew.

GONYEA: And it continues in campaign ads.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ted Cruz will prosecute and defund Planned Parenthood. Help Cruz restore American values.

GONYEA: And Cruz plans to be part of a 50-state grassroots effort to build pressure to defund Planned Parenthood. The organization calls the videos and Cruz's push a smear campaign using false and outrageous claims. Dawn Leguens is the executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

DAWN LEGUENS: This is just his way to try and find and carve a spot into the Republican landscape and extreme right that tends to control the primary process.

GONYEA: Now, plenty of other candidates are wooing evangelicals, but none have worked those voters like Cruz. He currently polls in the top tier in Iowa, and he's been spending time across the South because on March 1, more than half a dozen southern states will likely all vote in the so-called SEC primary, named after the region's powerhouse college football conference. Janine Parry is a pollster at the University of Arkansas.

JANINE PARRY: He is speaking to issues and almost only those issues right now in a primary that's also frontloaded with southern states, states that are heavily laden with Christian evangelicals.

GONYEA: And, Parry says, it gives Cruz an issue where he can get attention even as much of the field is caught up in the Donald Trump storyline. Of course, the downside is that the issue won't likely play well in a general election.

PARRY: I think that's the risk and that's what you see in Cruz is he's running a primary election strategy and, you know, most strategists would say, well, you kind of have to in a field like this, but also in general. You don't get to go to the general election if you can't win the primary.

GONYEA: Cruz argues that he can win the nomination and the presidency by motivating real conservatives and not worrying at all about winning moderates. He's also got another tool he may use to prove his commitment to the base. As a senator, he may again threaten a government shutdown this fall over funding for Planned Parenthood. The GOP leadership in Congress doesn't want that, but Cruz may see it as a daring way to stand out in this crowded presidential field. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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