DES MOINES — The hearts of many evangelical voters, polls suggest, are with Ben Carson. But increasingly, their leaders’ heads are with Ted Cruz.
While the Texas senator trails the retired pediatric neurosurgeon by double digits in national surveys, prominent evangelical leaders and political operatives who work with the Christian conservative movement say it’s the well-funded Cruz who has made the bigger organizational effort with politically active church goers.
He’s rounding up the very grass-roots leaders who wield influence with this crucial Republican voting bloc. And here in Iowa, where endorsements have often predicted caucus winners, that matters.
“Cruz has got a lot of people on the ground who can historically move numbers,” said Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent and still unaligned conservative in Iowa who is hosting a major cattle-call for Republican presidential candidates on Friday night. Vander Plaats in previous cycles attached his endorsement to the candidate who ultimately won the Iowa caucuses, and this time, he is thought to be leaning toward Cruz.
Meanwhile, Carson, a newcomer to politics, is running an untraditional campaign in every sense — including in how he courts the religious faithful. Carson, who speaks particularly openly about his personal faith, approaches voters here with a heart-on-his sleeve style, but he hasn’t made engaging their political leaders a priority.
Tony Perkins, among the most influential evangelical leaders in the country, told CNN earlier this week of Carson: “He’s not built relationships with conservative leaders. I don’t know that he’s actually looking for endorsements from conservative leaders. He may have a different approach to his campaign.”