Many at the rally questioned whether Trump could match Cruz’s devotion. Jim Hargett said he believed a President Cruz would get down on his knees and pray each morning in the White House. But Trump, Hargett said, “struggled as to when he may have been actually a true believer in God—and saved, as we call it, through Jesus Christ.”
“It’s hard to refocus on somebody that doesn’t make as much of a presentation about his faith,” he added.
Cruz’s campaign confirms that the religious outreach is no accident: “We are making a concerted effort to reach out to people of faith [because] Cruz's convictions and policies resonate among these voters,” says Catherine Frazier, a campaign spokeswoman.
The Furman rally wasn’t the first such event for Cruz in South Carolina. Last month, he not only held the religious-liberty rally in Greenville, but also trekked to the Florence Baptist Temple, where about 1,500 people attended, according to the campaign.
Indeed, Cruz seems to have an easier route to unifying religious voters behind him than he did at the primary’s start. After the fall of Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal—and the floundering of others such as Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum—Cruz’s campaign could coalesce the Religious Right. The latest polls show him surging with heavy evangelical support in Iowa, as he’s on the way to all 99 counties.
But whether that will be enough to boost him to victory in South Carolina (and beyond) will also depend on a host of other factors, including how Cruz handles his campaign in the months to come.
And it’s not just Trump that Cruz has to worry about: The race in the state has crystallized into a top four of Trump, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Cruz, according to the state GOP chairman, Matt Moore, with the senators on the upswing.
Many GOP voters in the state haven’t made up their mind, the candidates must deal with a crucial mid-February South Carolina debate, and Gov. Nikki Haley and Scott have yet to endorse a candidate. There's also Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is running for president himself but is a virtual nonfactor in national polls. Graham has long feuded with Cruz and his ilk over differences on how to run the Senate, and he is pulling no punches on the campaign trail.
He told National Journal that Cruz and Trump are “completely unelectable,” calling Trump a “disaster” and Cruz “one of the most bellicose voices” on immigration, an issue on which upstate South Carolina is more likely to agree with Cruz than with Graham, who favors a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who come to the country illegally. Graham also referred to Cruz’s positions on abortion, saying, "It’d be a pretty hard sell for the nominee of the Republican Party to not have an exception for rape or incest," and ripped Cruz’s failed effort to defund Obamacare in the government-shutdown battle two years ago.