In Tight Iowa Race, Ted Cruz Is Counting On Evangelical Voters Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is barnstorming across Iowa, where his appeal to evangelical voters is making him a threat to GOP front-runner Donald Trump in the first caucus state.

In Tight Iowa Race, Ted Cruz Is Counting On Evangelical Voters

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This is Ted Cruz's goal in Iowa this week - organize and inspire the state's influential evangelical voters. More than half of Iowa's Republican caucus-goers are conservative Christians. The Cruz victory there hinges on his ability to win their support. NPR's Susan Davis reports from Iowa.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: At the kickoff of a six-day campaign swing through Iowa, there's no mistaking which voters Ted Cruz is trying to reach.

TED CRUZ: I'm thrilled to be here at this Christian bookstore.

DAVIS: It's Kings Christian Bookstore in Boone, the first of 28 stops this week across Iowa. Before he began his pitch, he cited the scripture he saw on the wall.

CRUZ: I was looking up and seeing Joshua 24:15 on the wall. Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

DAVIS: Cruz is here asking Iowa Republicans to vote for him in the caucuses next month. And at each and every campaign stop, he also asked them to pray.

CRUZ: Just one minute each day to lift up in prayer this country, that the awakening, that the spirit of revival that is sweeping this country, that it continue and in particular that conservatives continue to unite.

DAVIS: Cruz is campaigning hard to consolidate Iowa's conservative Christian vote. They usually make up over half of everyone who will show up at the Republican caucuses. The calculation is simple, says Bob Vander Plaats, the most prominent evangelical voice in Iowa politics. Cruz wins Iowa and then...

BOB VANDER PLAATS: Once we launch him out of Iowa, he's not going to flame out. He's actually going to, you know, propel further. And with the resources behind that, he could be the nominee.

DAVIS: And that's what Iowa's evangelical voters want the most in 2016 - a winner. They're tired of picking Christian conservative candidates who flame out in later contests, like Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012. Doc Ennenberg, a retired doctor, is 86 and he's been a caucus organizer since 1964. He waited for Cruz yesterday at a steakhouse in the town of Carroll to give him this warning.

DOC ENNENBERG: You better make it 'cause I don't want to die without seeing a [expletive] conservative in the White House.

DAVIS: Cruz isn't just asking for their votes, he's trying to fire up evangelicals, first here in Iowa, but with an eye on upcoming states like South Carolina and the big block of Southern states that vote on March 1, Super Tuesday. Cruz says in recent elections evangelicals haven't done enough to propel a conservative like himself to the White House.

CRUZ: Look, we allow non-believers to elect our leaders. We shouldn't be surprised when our government doesn't reflect our values.

DAVIS: That was last night in Winterset, Iowa, where Cruz added...

CRUZ: We have to bring back to the polls the millions of conservatives who stayed home. We have to awaken and energize the body of Christ.

DAVIS: His message worked for 44-year-old Michele Jones. She sat in the front row with her granddaughter on her lap at a cafe in Guthrie. This is the first time she's ever volunteered for any campaign. She first saw Cruz speak in Texas during his 2012 Senate race.

MICHELE JONES: That actually inspired me. I said, someday this man's going to run for president and when he does, I'm going to campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Here in America, in God we still trust.

DAVIS: That's a Christian bluegrass band in Winterset last night, where Cruz got a big public endorsement on stage from Dr. James Dobson, the iconic Christian broadcaster. Cruz may be inching ahead in the polls here, but he's taking nothing for granted. He's organized over 6,000 grassroots volunteers in Iowa. I asked veteran caucus-goer Doc Ennenberg for a caucus forecast.

How many do you think you can turn out?

ENNENBERG: God only knows.

DAVIS: (Laughter). So for Cruz to win Iowa, it's a question of organization and faith. Susan Davis, NPR News, Council Bluffs, Iowa.

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