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 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.”
But Trump has threatened that strategy with a bristling insular message that has demonstrated a powerful appeal for blue-collar Republicans across religious boundaries.
Trump’s strength among working-class evangelical Christians is helping him to closely press Cruz in Iowa, a state whose Republican caucus has usually favored the candidate that evangelicals prefer. The same dynamic could threaten Cruz in the Southern states that he is counting on to boost his candidacy in early March. Continued Trump strength among blue-collar evangelicals would also frame Midwestern states with many of those voters, including Ohio, Missouri, and Wisconsin, as potentially pivotal showdowns between the two men.