In the days leading up to the pivotal Iowa caucuses, a group of Iowa pastors and a number of prominent national Christian leaders have endorsed Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for president, which contrasts the notion that evangelical leaders are coalescing around Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Rubio has repeatedly touted his faith in recent weeks in commercials, during campaign stops and at presidential debates, in a concerted effort to attract the support of the pivotal Iowa evangelical voting bloc, a group that both Cruz and frontrunner Donald Trump have also courted heavily.
In a press release issued Saturday, the Rubio campaign announced a "growing" list of at least 26 Iowa pastors, who represent various Christian denominations and will be supporting Rubio at Monday's Iowa caucuses.
"I am enthusiastically supporting Marco Rubio because I have personally heard him share how his belief in God impacts the things he believes in and stands for," Philip Herman, the pastor of Fellowship Community Church in Norwalk, said in a statement. "Our country doesn't need another leader who simply wants to be President for his own personal power and ego, we need a leader like Marco Rubio who uses his gifts and abilities in full submission to an Almighty God."
As a recent LifeWay Research poll found that 47 percent of American pastors are undecided about which presidential candidate they are going to vote, Cory Van Sloten, Pastor of Lebanon Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Center, said in a statement that he feels Rubio is the best candidate to lead the nation going forward.
"As a Christian, a pastor, and a veteran, I believe Senator Rubio is best qualified to lead our nation for such a time as this," Van Sloten argued.
In the press release, Eric Teetsel, the Rubio campaign's director of faith outreach, praised the endorsers as having broad theological influence.
"Marco is honored that Christian leaders throughout the state representing a diverse array of theological traditions believe he is the best choice for president," Teetsel, former of director of the social conservative advocacy group Manhattan Declaration, said.
Last Thursday, Rubio also picked up the endorsement of Rev. Tony Suarez, the executive vice president of the United States' largest Hispanic evangelical organization, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Suarez praised Rubio's ability to reach across the the political aisle as a "Reaganesque" characteristic that could help the GOP win the general election and presidency if he is the Republican nomination.
"As the Republican nominee, Senator Rubio is a man who can win the general election. Polls show that if pitted against presumed democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Senator Rubio presents the best option for the GOP. He is a true conservative, yet is also compassionate," Suarez wrote in a statement shared with The Christian Post. "Senator Rubio has a broad appeal across race, age and gender— a clear distinction to Donald Trump, who brings the same divisiveness that we already see in Washington."
Suarez, who also serves on the Evangelical Immigration Table principals board, indicated that he favors Rubio's stances on immigration, abortion, religious liberty and relations with Israel.
"Washington has reached an impasse. Partisan politics and division has left our country without a way to move forward on real solutions to the problems we are facing," Suarez wrote in a statement. "We need unifier who will stand for Christian values, strengthen our stance on the world stage, show compassion to those desiring to become a part of the fabric of American society, be a champion for life, and bless Israel."
On Saturday, CP published an op-ed by Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and director of Evangelicals in Civic Life and Faith Angle Forum, where he explained he why he has endorsed Rubio.
"I support him for many reasons but here are a few," Cromartie wrote. "his clear commitment to restoring America's reputation and standing in the world, his plans to revitalize our national defense, his 'Jack Kemp' style commitment to elevating the lives of everyone via robust economic growth that promotes broad-based economic opportunity, to his firm but compassionate reset of our flawed immigration policies, and because of his inspirational and optimistic embodiment of the American spirit and story."
Cromartie, who is an author and served six years on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, is inspired by Rubio's consistent advocacy in the Senate for both domestic and international religious freedoms, pointing out Rubio's opposition to the Obamacare HHS birth control mandate.
"Religious believers and advocates of religious liberty need an ally in the White House," Cromartie wrote. "I believe the best candidate on this issue is Senator Marco Rubio."
In an interview with The Christian Post earlier in January, Bob Vander Plaats, the leader of the Iowa social conservative organization FAMiLY Leader and a national co-chair of the Cruz campaign, argued that most of the evangelical support in Iowa is going to Cruz and any conservative evangelicals who vote for Rubio would help Trump win the Iowa Caucus and possibly bolster Trump to the GOP nomination.
Vander Plaats is included in a large group of influential national evangelical and social conservative leaders who are reportedly coalescing their support around Cruz.
"Marco has been trying to do [appeal to evangelicals] since he started running," Vander Plaats explained. "There is a lot to like about Marco Rubio but any votes that go to Marco Rubio, go away probably from Ted Cruz. And if that is the case, he helps out Donald Trump at the expense of Ted Cruz. The same could be said for Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum or Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina. Although they are all good people, the votes that are going there are going there at the expense of Ted Cruz and benefiting Donald Trump."
The LifeWay research shows that although 39 percent of Republican pastors are undecided about how they are going to vote for, 29 percent of Republican pastors said they intend to vote for Cruz over any other candidates, which is about three times as many Republican pastors who indicated that they would vote for Rubio or Carson.