Next week, the U.S. will start the primaries for presidential candidates. In Iowa, religious creeds are traditionally important to Republican voters.
Final spurt in the U.S., after all the polls the first primaries: On Monday, the state of Iowa votes on who should be the presidential nominee among Republicans and among Democrats. Republicans talk a lot about faith and God in the campaign, and in Iowa, about 60 percent of Republican primary voters describe themselves as evangelical Christians. But showman Donald Trump is also reshuffling the religious deck.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas urged his supporters to pray for the U.S. to save the nation from decline. And his rival Marco Rubio, a senator in Florida, says people need to elect someone "who kneels down and asks God for guidance". The purpose of life is, after all, "to cooperate with God's plan".
Highly traded: Ted Cruz
Religious matters greatly in Republican primaries, especially in Iowa, a rural Midwestern state. In 2012, evangelical Christians there made up about 60 percent of the 120.000 republican preselectors. For 64 percent of Republicans, it is important that a president share their faith, the Pew Research Center reported this week.
Several Republican contenders have a good reputation in conservative Christian circles. Particularly highly touted is 45-year-old Ted Cruz of Texas. He is close to the conservative "Tea Party" and is a member of a Baptist church in Houston. One of his most conspicuous Iowa campaigners is his father, Rafael Cruz, an immigrant from Cuba and an evangelical preacher. Senator Marco Rubio, 44, of Florida, also with Cuban roots, is a Catholic and anti-abortion activist.
No confidence in Trump
Donald Trump, on the other hand, who according to new polls is also popular with white evangelicals, has problems with the religious: married three times, gambling casino founder, neither humble nor Bible-believing. As recently as 2000, the 69-year-old had spoken out in favor of the right to abortion. Meanwhile, he is "pro-life," he says, referring to the anti-abortion movement.
Leading representatives of pro-life organizations, on the other hand, published an "Open Letter to Iowa" this week: they do not trust Trump, one should not vote for him. Southern Baptist Union ethicist Russell Moore also says Trump has no moral compass.
Trump doing well in polls
But the billionaire is apparently a magnet. Pew poll says 52 percent of white evangelicals think Trump would be a good or great president. Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has come out in support of Trump, and Jerry Falwell Jr., President of the largest Christian university and son of televangelist Jerry Falwell, who died in 2007. Trump is a "successful businessman, wonderful father, and a man who I think can make our country great again," he told The Washington Post.
His father, founder of the "Moral Majority," had supported Ronald Reagan in 1980, who, as a divorced man from Hollywood, was not initially well regarded by evangelicals, Jerry Falwell said. He chose "not a Sunday school teacher and not a pastor," but a president with "skills to lead a nation". Reagan's opponent was Sunday school teacher Jimmy Carter.
"Professions of faith" from Sanders and Clinton
Democrats Bernie Sanders, a Jew, and Hillary Clinton, a Methodist, have no chance in the evangelical world simply because of their endorsement of same-sex marriage. In Iowa this week, Clinton nevertheless made an unusually detailed profession of faith, according to the "New York Times". Jesus' Sermon on the Mount takes sides "with the poor and the merciful and those who do not have much according to worldly reckoning". He said it saddens them when Christianity is used to "quickly condemn and judge harshly".
Sanders told the Washington Post that he believes in God, but not in the traditional way. To him, faith means "that we are all connected, that all of life is connected," he said. He is not involved in "organized religion," he said.
The "pre-election circus" will keep the U.S. busy for months to come. Last of 50 states don't vote until June. Next stop on 9. February, New Hampshire in the Northeast, is very different from Iowa: far fewer evangelicals, more people with no religious affiliation. There, polls show Trump well ahead.