Iowa Evangelical Kingmaker Gives Ted Cruz His Blessing

Dec 10, 2015
Originally published on December 10, 2015 4:14 pm

Bob Vander Plaats, the influential president of the conservative Christian group the Family Leader, is endorsing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

"Our goal is to unite conservatives around Ted Cruz," Vander Plaats said Thursday in the rotunda of the Iowa state capitol. "We believe he'll be the nominee to take on and defeat Hillary Clinton."

Vander Plaats said he told Donald Trump on Wednesday that he would not be endorsing him, but that the two remain friendly.

Vander Plaats is seen as "an evangelical kingmaker in Iowa," as NPR's Sarah McCammon has reported. He has a solid track record of picking Iowa caucus winners — including former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012 and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008.

Vander Plaats' endorsement comes as the latest Monmouth Poll shows Cruz leading Donald Trump in Iowa (24 percent to 19 percent). The poll also finds that Cruz is doing particularly well among evangelical voters, as Ben Carson's popularity among that demographic has fallen.

Vander Plaats' support also follows another sacred Iowa blessing — Rep. Steve King, a hardline conservative, who endorsed Cruz in November, praised him as the answer to his prayers — a true "constitutional originalist."

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The Iowa caucuses are less than two months away. And today, the leader of Iowa's most powerful evangelical group announced he's backing Senator Ted Cruz for the Republican presidential nomination. Evangelical Christians have historically turned out big in Iowa's caucuses. Clay Masters of Iowa Public Radio has more.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: After courting many presidential candidates, Bob Vander Plaats made up his mind. The head of the conservative Christian group The Family Leader stood in the rotunda of the Iowa Capitol to announce that Ted Cruz had earned his endorsement.


BOB VANDER PLAATS: Not only will he be very, very strong here in Iowa. We believe he'll be strong in the early states, and we believe he can be the nominee to take on and to defeat Hillary Clinton and the leftist agenda.

MASTERS: Vander Plaats' support is coveted in Iowa. He endorsed former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum in 2012 and was the state chair for former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in 2008. Both would go on to win the Iowa Republican caucuses but did not become the party's nominee those years. Vander Plaats says he called Republican frontrunner Donald Trump yesterday to break the news.


VANDER PLAATS: But he still considers me a dear friend, as I consider him a dear friend. And I told Mr. Trump - I said he has brought a lot of value to this race. As a matter of fact, this race is completely different because of Mr. Trump.

MASTERS: Cruz has courted Iowa evangelicals since he entered the race. At a Family Leader forum last month, Cruz said the country's religious liberties are under attack.


TED CRUZ: But at the same time, I'm proud to defend both the definition of marriage, the union of one man and one woman that was ordained by God and the religious liberty of those who believe in a biblical definition of marriage not being persecuted by their government.

MASTERS: It's the latest high-profile endorsement for Cruz in Iowa. And it comes as many caucus-goers are still weighing their options. As one respected pollster here in Iowa put it this week, anything can happen and will. For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters in Des Moines. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.