CHEROKEE, Iowa - Sen. Ted Cruz is asking Iowa residents to do him some favors. There is the obvious one: vote for him in the Feb. 1 caucus, and urge others to do so too. Then he asks people to pray.
"I want to ask every one here between now and Feb. 1, if you could commit to pray each day," he said.
"Just one minute when you wake up in the morning. When you’re shaving," he said, running his fingers down the right side of his face. "When you’re having lunch. When you’re tucking your kids into bed."
Gaining the support of this state's heavy concentration of evangelical Christians has always been key to Cruz's strategy here in Iowa and across the country. He launched his campaign at Liberty University, founded by the fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell. He has met with faith leaders on the national and grassroots level. Here in Iowa, he has faith outreach leaders in all of the state's 99 counties, held a religious liberty rally in Des Moines in August, launched a national prayer team and has dispatched his pastor father, Rafael, to court evangelical Christians.
"There was a season there where I was seeing him more than the senator," Cruz's Iowa director, Bryan English, said of Rafael Cruz. "We were putting a lot of miles on my car in the summertime."
His son is now weaving even more religious language into his stump speech during the final weeks of campaigning in Iowa, telling audiences here that there is a "spirit of revival" happening across the country. He is citing scripture, evoking a verse from the Books of Chronicles which he quotes - but not verbatim.
"We are standing on the promises of Second chronicles 7-14," he said. "If my people would you call by my name shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways then I will hear their prayers and forgive their sins and I will heal their land."
Cruz then paused.
"That is the role of the men and women of Iowa," he said in a whisper.
The Texas Republican held an event in Winterset, Iowa, Monday night that was focused on religion. Cruz had a conversation with James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and a Cruz backer, that often touched on religion and faith. He told the audience he believes the key to winning the election is making sure that evangelical Christians who stayed home in 2012 vote in this presidential election.
"We have to awaken and energize the body of Christ," he said. The federal government, he said, has a "secular agenda" and it will continue.
"If we allow non-believers to elect our leaders we shouldn’t be surprised when our government doesn’t reflect our values," he said.
Cruz also got personal, asking the audience to pray for his two daughters, ages 7 and 5, and admitting that the campaign trail is difficult on a family.
"When you’re the father of two little girls and you’re walking out to head to the campaign trail and one girl grabs one leg and one girl grabs the other and they say, ‘don’t go daddy.’ I mean that’s hard and it has been hard," he said, asking the audience to pray for the family.
Cruz's efforts to gain the support of evangelical voters intensified in late summer and fall, when he held religious liberty rallies here in Iowa and in South Carolina and took the lead in a nationwide effort to try to end taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. In recent weeks he has consolidated the support of Christian conservatives, gaining the endorsements of influential faith leaders, including Dobson and, here in Iowa, evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats.
Last week more than 300 faith leaders gathered with Cruz at the Cisco, Tex., ranch of one of his super PAC supporters.
At a stop in Sioux Center, Iowa, there were small cards asking people to pray for the Cruz family, giving five prayers. They include "That we would communicate effectively to Americans of all political persuasions" and "That we and the campaign team would be on God's side in everything we do."