It’s been a slow and steady climb to the top for GOP presidential hopeful Ted Cruz. The first-term Texas senator could be the dark horse candidate emerging from behind to win the Hawkeye state.
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In a recent Monmouth University poll, Ted Cruz scored 30% of support from Evangelicals in the Iowa Republican presidential caucus. Trump bumped down to second place with 18%, followed by Marco Rubio at 16% and Ben Carson 15%.
Since March, Cruz has been highly visible in Iowa, courting Evangelicals and winning valuable endorsements including the backing of Representative Steve King.
Jeff King, the congressman’s son, has been consulting with Keep the Promise 1, a Super PAC for Ted Cruz. He says Senator Cruz checks all the right boxes when it comes to garnering the support of Iowa primary voters.
“Cruz has done a great job in letting Evangelicals know where he stands and what he has done for religious liberty, he understands the Constitution and the freedom of religion,” said King. “I think they have responded to that really well, you will see Evangelicals come out for Cruz in Iowa and all over the country.”
Cruz got a big boost on Thursday when Evangelical influencer Bob Vander Plaats and his Iowa-based conservative advocacy group, the Family Leader, officially endorsed him. During the press conference Vander Plaats called Cruz, “the extraordinary leader that we need for these extraordinary times.”
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“We will be going all in for Senator Ted Cruz - We have found him as a man of deep character. A man that we can fully trust, who has a consistency of convictions, who loves his God, loves his spouse, and who loves his family,” said Bob Vander Plaats.
“We also see him to be very, very competent. Not always popular, but very competent. He has challenged both sides of the aisle. He understands what it's going to take to get the country out of the mess that we're currently in. We believe that he is exceptionally competent and that adds to his extraordinary leadership."
Vander Plaats’ support is crucial for an Iowa caucus win; in the past he has endorsed both Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. He said this time around, after examining the GOP field, he is backing the candidate “that can go the distance and become the nominee."
“For a lot of people I talked to in Iowa, the difference is Cruz is not as brash as Donald Trump. Senator Cruz has been bold and principled, he hasn’t backed off from issues at all but he is also very calculated.”
Arthur Sanders, a political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines Iowa, says Cruz has been running his campaign at a marathon pace and it’s paying off.
“Cruz’s strategy seemed to be to try to be visible, to try to be bold which is what he is good at doing but also working hard not to alienate Ben Carson and Donald Trump supporters so that if they started to drop they might find him,” said Sanders.
The freshman senator has been careful not to personally attack GOP frontrunner Donald Trump throughout the race, a strategy his Republican opponents have failed to do. In recent days, Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims entering the U.S. has been condemned by all GOP presidential candidates except Ted Cruz.
“Cruz was very careful, while he said he didn’t like the statements he also said that he thought he would put Trump in his cabinet because he is a great negotiator,” said Sanders. “I think Cruz not attacking Trump has to do with the fact that he knows Trump has a ceiling, he thinks he is not going to last and Cruz wants to be there to pick up the pieces, it’s very calculated.”
King says he doesn’t believe Senator Cruz is calculating each move but rather abiding by President Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."
“Cruz’s MO is to follow Reagan’s 11th Commandment, he hasn’t really been attacking others but he does defend himself when he is being attacked especially when it is not the whole truth.“
Iowa State Senator Dennis Guth says speaking the truth and standing by his convictions are traits Ted Cruz has upheld during his tenure in Congress and on the campaign trail. He says that is exactly how Cruz sets himself apart.
“For a lot of people I talked to in Iowa, the difference is Cruz is not as brash as Donald Trump. Senator Cruz has been bold and principled, he hasn’t backed off from issues at all but he is also very calculated,” said Guth. “He understands the risk that comes with each commitment he makes and what the rewards are going to be and I think his past history shows he is willing to take those stands when others won’t.”
With the Iowa primary less than a few months away, Cruz and Trump will go head-to-head for votes. Many may be asking, is Ted Cruz ‘Trump lite’?
“I think Cruz is trying to position himself as an alternative to Trump. I think he doesn’t want to be labeled as Trump lite because that is not good,” said Sanders. “I think he tries to fight that image by saying he is serious about policy in a way that Trump isn’t. He does it in a subtle way without naming anyone.”
Professor Sanders says in order for Cruz to sweep the Iowa caucus he needs to continue building his strong base by remaining visible and offering contrasts to Donald Trump and Ben Carson without personally attacking them.
In the eyes of Iowans like Guth, Ted Cruz is already a step ahead of the rest.
“Cruz has very firmly stood for his values that Iowans hold dear. We see his bold stance and know he is the man we want to be seated at the table if we are negotiating for world peace. He is going to be firm and will not yield to the demands of ISIS or any other threats. We believe he will act like President Ronald Reagan would have,” said Guth.