“It is my faith that motivated me to be involved in the political process to begin with,” Carson said in a statement provided by the organization. “I believe Christians in this country can easily determine the next president of the United States and all other national and local leaders, should they simply show up at the polls. When we do vote, We The People will once again solidify our commitment to the Judeo-Christian values upon which our nation was founded.”
In his speech at CPAC, Carson said Friday that a Christian voter who stays home is effectively “voting for the other side.” He spoke of his new effort as an apparent way to increase Republican voter turnout. “I will still continue to be heavily involved in trying to save our nation. We have to save it.”
Johnnie Moore, a spokesman for My Faith Votes, said that the 501(c)(3) organization is non-partisan and non-denominational. “This is not about a candidate, it is about a cause: that people of faith have a moral responsibility to vote, and if they do they also have a disproportionate effect on the election’s outcome,” Moore wrote in an email.
But he said the campaign which Carson will lead will have a particular focus on Christians. The organization, founded several months ago, plans to reach voters through televangelists, YouTube and radio personalities and local preachers. So far, it has recruited mostly evangelical leaders, and it plans to reach out next to Catholic figures, Moore said.
“The majority of evangelicals in this country will vote for whoever the Republican candidate is,” Moore said. But drumming up Republican votes is not the goal, he added.
In a 2015 Pew study, 56 percent of evangelical Protestants said they identified as Republican, more than any other religious group but Mormons. Republicans were more likely to attend religious services of any faith — 44 percent said they attend services weekly, compared to 29 percent of Democrats.
Evangelical voters have boosted candidates in the past — George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum in the 2008 and 2012 primaries. But this year, exit polls in most states that have voted so far have shown evangelical voters splitting their votes, especially among Republican candidates Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
A handful of faith leaders have expressed concerns about voting for any candidate at all in a campaign that has descended into mud-slinging.
“If the church practiced evangelism the way we practice politics very often, we would never see a convert. How could you convert somebody to your faith by name-calling, shouting, insulting other faiths or other people?” said Mark DeMoss.
DeMoss, who owns a public relations firm for Christian businesses, advised Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. This year, he said he has not donated to any candidate and he would not work for any of the four remaining Republican campaigns even if they invited him.
“It feels like it’s reached new lows of personal insult,” DeMoss said. “I think a lot of Christians wear a Christian hat most of the time, and then put on a political hat and act like they never had a Christian hat.”
If Christian voters are so discouraged by the eventual Republican nominee that they consider sitting out this election altogether, it will be Carson’s new job to urge them to vote.
And if they do flock toward the same candidate, they could sway the election, Moore said. According to a tally by My Faith Votes, 25 million people who identify as Christian were registered to vote, but did not vote, in 2012 — enough to change the outcome of a presidential election if even a large fraction of them were to cast ballots.
DeMoss thinks Carson is suited for the job of prodding a weary flock of faithful voters toward the polls. “He was kind of a bright spot,” DeMoss said. “He never took off his Christian hat.”
This post has been updated. Emily Guskin contributed to this report.