GOP presidential leaders Donald Trump and Ted Cruz may have their battle decided by voters at the intersection of their competing strengths: working-class Republicans who are also evangelical Christians.
Those blue-collar culturally conservative voters represent a big share of the Republican electorate not only across the south but also in many Midwestern states. They also remain one of the most closely divided constituencies in the party, according to an array of recent polls provided to Next America.
Trump underscored his determination to compete for evangelical support with a high-profile speech Monday at Liberty University, which was founded by the late Jerry Falwell Senior, a leading conservative Southern Baptist pastor who also played a key role in launching the Moral Majority in the late 1970s.
Cruz, who runs best among evangelicals, is pursuing these voters through traditional means: by emphasizing his conservative commitment on social issues from abortion to gay marriage and by copiously organizing through churches and other religious networks such as homeschooling families.
“Ted decided the evangelical vote is his path to the nomination,” says the longtime social-conservative leader Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition. “This was his path message-wise; it was his path in terms of his personal narrative, it was his path organizationally. He has been focused laser-like on coalescing the evangelical vote behind a single candidate as early as possible.” While “of course other candidates will be fighting for those votes as well,” Reed adds, “if [Cruz] pulls it off first in Iowa and then in later primaries, he’ll be a formidable contender.”