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Why the guy whose God question was asked at the GOP debate wasn’t even surprised

When Megyn Kelly told the participants in the first 2016 Republican presidential debate that Chase Norton had a question for them about God, the only person who would say he wasn't surprised was probably Chase Norton.

The moment came at the end of Fox News's two-hour marathon, after a score of questions about the economy and national security and abortion. Kelly teased the upcoming finale right as the network went to commercial: "We have to stand you by," she told the participants, "because after the break, we're going to let the candidates make their closing statements, their final thoughts -- and God." Twitter, the Internet's peanut galley, tittered among themselves about what it could mean.

As soon as Kelly came back, she explained. Norton, like thousands of others, had posted a question for the candidates on Facebook. Unlike thousands of others, his was chosen: "I want to know if any of them have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first."

"I had no idea she was going to say anything or bring up my comment," Norton, 22, told me when we spoke by phone on Friday afternoon. "But honestly, that wouldn't surprise me at this moment."

Norton, who lives in a rural part of South Carolina outside of the capital, described himself as "very conservative" when we spoke, and in case his question didn't make it clear, very religious. "I put my relationship with God above politics."

In February 2014, Norton told me, he had a religious experience during a moment of stress. "I hit my knees and said, 'God, what do you want me to do?'" That night, lenses he wore to correct a vision problem came out, he said, and ever since then his vision has been perfect. That's why his appearance in the debate didn't really surprise him: Compared to the miracle he says he experienced, a mention by a news anchor on the most-watched event in cable history is nothing.

His faith is also why he asked the question. While driving around near his home, where a number of relatives also live, he noticed trees increasingly being cut down and a quarry being "trashed," which reminded him of the time he spent in Nicaragua as a missionary. "I see it turning that way, the more we turn away from God."

So he wanted to know if the Republican candidates had God in their hearts, and he posted his comment. He was at home, watching the debate with his two black Labradors, Colt and Drake, after a long day of work. Despite not being surprised that something so exceptional should happen, he was, in fact, surprised in the moment.

"I was like, 'Wow,'" he said. "Everybody was sending friend requests on Facebook and saying, 'Great question.' I was taken aback."

Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich were asked the question directly, and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) was dealt a variation on it. How'd they do? Norton doesn't seem to have been terribly impressed. He wishes they'd all been asked the question -- a sentiment with which many agreed -- and he wishes the answers he'd heard were more specific.

"None of them answered as if they had personally -- without a church -- gotten down and prayed to God and asked Him, "What direction should I take this?'" he explained. "I want something from their heart, you know? I don't want it to be based on votes. I want something they feel as though they need to do."

On Friday morning, Norton's girlfriend came over. "She was like, 'Wow, were you sleeping with your Bible under your pillow?'" Norton says. "I said, 'No, I must have fallen asleep with it beside me.'"

Because as soon as he became one of the 15-odd people identified by name in a national television program watched by millions of people, Norton read the Bible for a little bit and then fell asleep. He'd been working all day. It wasn't until the morning, he said, that he discovered "everybody was blowing up my phone."

Which was probably not a surprise either.