Two outspoken Republican senators and the chairman of their party traveled to Des Moines on Friday to speak to evangelical pastors in an effort to reignite enthusiasm for the conservative cause.
Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Rand Paul (Ky.), both mentioned as possible presidential candidates, were the key speakers at a meeting of 400 Iowa ministers and their spouses. The senators also attended an Iowa Republican Party fundraiser.
Cruz drew a strong response Friday from the religious leaders with an emotional appeal to Christians “to hold party leaders accountable” and to engage politically. Paul issued a similar call to action in a more low-key address to the Iowa Renewal Project, the state chapter of a national organization that is likely to begin similar operations soon in other states.
The group is the brainchild of David Lane, a California Christian organizer who helped get pastors to work together several years ago in support of the agenda of Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R). Lane brought his organizational skills to Iowa in 2010 and was credited with helping to defeat three Iowa Supreme Court justices who had ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.
The two senators were joined Friday in Des Moines by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, the Wisconsin native who hopes to restore the vitality of the party after two losses to President Obama in recent presidential contests.
Like Paul and Cruz, Priebus knelt by the podium in Des Moines as the assembled pastors stood over him in prayer. While in Iowa, the three also agreed to attend the Iowa GOP summer picnic.
Cruz and Paul are known as small-government conservatives with a strong libertarian streak. They both say they embrace traditional family values as a “fundamental building block of society.” But they say states should make their own decisions about marriage, including about how to define it.
In addition to the Iowa pastors, there were several African American and Latino church leaders from other states in attendance. They had a separate meeting Friday evening, after the Iowa pastors had adjourned their session. Lane, Priebus and others hope that evangelical pastors of all races will join together in the 2014 and 2016 elections to mobilize Christian conservative voters.
“We are mobilizing this constituency,” said Lane on Friday, explaining his plans for expanding the Renewal Project in Iowa and other states. “This is not about Republicans and Democrats. It’s about returning American to its Judeo-Christian heritage.”
Getting Christians politically active is important, he said, because “there are 65 to 80 million evangelical Christians in America, but half of them are not registered to vote and half of those who are registered don’t go the polls.”
In addition to this week’s meeting in Des Moines, Lane and his group are getting Iowa clerics to register their congregants to vote during three weekends in September. In October, Lane convenes a similar gathering of pastors in Baton Rouge.