Republican candidates courting the vote as the Iowa caucuses approach are leading with their faith, as that has historically worked during the primaries in The Hawkeye State. But will it translate to an effective national evangelical voting bloc come November?
Perhaps the most outspoken candidate in Iowa so far has been Ted Cruz, who is on record saying, "I was looking up and seeing Joshua 24:15 on the wall: 'Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.' Amen."
A no-show = no job interview; ergo, no job
Donald Trump is taking a calculated gamble by skipping the FOX News debate tonight. That's how it's being perceived on the ground in Iowa, says Family Leader CEO Bob Vander Plaats.
"I think the caucus-goers are going to penalize Donald Trump for skipping the final interview of the process," Vander Plaats offers. "This is a job interview – and if you don't show up at your job interview, my guess is the people of Iowa are saying you're not counted in as part of the decision-making process."
The polls in Iowa are mixed – some giving Senator Ted Cruz the lead, some says Trump will win. But Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee defied the polls to take the caucuses in 2008 and 2012.
Vander Plaats says Trump is setting up what he calls a "looser's limp" in case things don't go his way in Monday's caucuses.
"He always needs to have a reason, because Donald Trump can't lose," he says, summarizing the billionaire's persona. "This is all about Donald Trump – and the people of Iowa are starting to see through it and they don't think Donald Trump has the judgment or temperament to be president."
Cruz, speaking with FOX News, said the move reflects Trump's character, adding: "If you're afraid of Megyn Kelly, then you're going to be afraid of Hillary Clinton, then you're going to be afraid of Vladimir Putin."
Bob Vander Plaats of The Family Leader says the Bible resonates with Hawkeye voters.
"People in Iowa – we're first in the nation for a reason," he states. "We want to find out what makes a person tick, and what makes a person tick is typically their faith."
That, he suggests, is likely why outspoken Christians and electoral underdogs Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum took the last two Iowa caucuses by storm.
"Not only were they willing to talk about their faith, but people viewed them as very generally about their faith," Vander Plaats recalls.
However, as author and radio host Alex McFarland points out, Iowa's spiritual mindset has not translated to a large evangelical turnout at the polls in the last two presidential elections.
"The evangelical vote is still the largest, most consistently predictable vote, but there are leaders within both parties that have concluded that the evangelical vote is not worth listening to because if it's not just the perfect, perfect candidate, they won't engage," McFarland observes.
Researchers estimate as many as 17 million evangelicals stayed away from the voting booth in 2012.