After Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s win in Iowa, credited to the large number of evangelicals there, some incorrectly assume that faith-based supporters are solidly in his camp.
But many leading religious conservatives in New Hampshire have announced their support for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — a grave threat to Cruz, who has positioned himself as the candidate for of the religious right.
In New Hampshire, there is a sizable contingency of Catholic voters with allegiance to traditional New England values. These voters decide whom to support largely based upon their faith and values. But they don’t call themselves “evangelicals” — rather, “religious conservatives.” Within the past week, many top, highly respected religious activists in the state have publicly endorsed Rubio, who is Catholic. Cruz is Southern Baptist.
A well-known Catholic conservative activist in New Hampshire and mom to three kids, Liz Feren, is on Rubio’s side.
“I think it’s important to understand what people of faith are looking for in a candidate — certainly taking a moral stand on specific issues — but it goes deeper,” Feren said. “I’ve seen evidence of Rubio as a man of tremendous faith. You need someone with a strong moral compass.”
[lz_table title=”Religion in New Hampshire and Iowa” source=”Pew Center Research”]New Hampshire
Feren noted that every time Rubio has visited the Granite State, he attends church services. She also cited his impressive Religious Liberty Advisory Board, which includes faith leaders such as Tom Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs — someone Feren respects.
Feren also argued that the narrative that people of faith are automatically going for other candidates is simply not true.
A well-known religious conservative and faith leader in Manchester, New Hampshire, who asked not to be named, made up his mind on Rubio when he gave his speech on the night of the Iowa caucus.
“It was dynamic, it was personal, it was faith-filled, it was everything I try to be as a human being, and he expressed it for me,” he said.
What’s more, he believes Rubio represents Roman Catholic values.
“He understands that there’s a church that transcends politics, and he tries to live within that and he’s a better disciple for it,” he said.
The man said he has been talking to a lot of undecided voters, and a lot people are deciding to go with Rubio.
“He definitely has the momentum, and if he has a good debate on Saturday, there will be a surge behind him,” the New Hampshire man said.
“The reason that I have decided — and it was really just last week — I feel like out of all of the candidates he truly understands his faith in a substantive way,” said Charlie McKinney, president of Sophia Institute Press, one of the largest Catholic publishers.
“Unlike Cruz, Rubio has the wherewithal to change minds and the culture through the use of the bully pulpit,” McKinney said.
Shannon McGinley, a top conservative activist in New Hampshire and former chairman of Cornerstone Policy Research, the Granite State’s leading social conservative organization, has recently given her coveted endorsement to Rubio.
“It came down to Cruz and Rubio for me,” McGinley said. “I have spent time with both candidates as well as separately with their wives. They are very similar on the issues so I had to go deeper. There is an authenticity about Rubio that I don’t feel with Cruz. Rubio has the ability to change hearts when he speaks.”
For McGinley, faith was an important factor in determining which candidate she would support. And as a mother of five — soon to be six — she lives out her values and instills them in her family.
Rubio “has an incredible understanding of both the evangelical world as well as the Catholic, and now fully embraces his Catholic faith — an intellectual journey,” McGinley said.
McGinley has since taken to social media to make sure everyone she knows sees it.
“I loved Rubio’s response to the atheist’s question in Iowa. Pastors are using that in their church services as an example of what it means to evangelize,” she said. “He didn’t just start this bit for Iowa, because he talked about Jesus being real and his love for the criminal to the saint in his farewell speech in the Florida House.”
Such sentiments could make it hard for Cruz to replicate his Iowa success.