In 2012 57 percent of Iowa's Republican caucus-goers identified themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians. Needless to say a candidate who wants to do well in the upcoming Iowa Caucuses in February will have to court evangelicals. It's simple math.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has a greater ability to reach evangelicals than his father former Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) did in 2012, and he is reaching out.
In March at a small prayer breakfast with pastors in Washington, DC Paul said that America needs a spiritual revival.
"The First Amendment says keep government out of religion. It doesn't say keep religion out of government," Paul told the group of 50 pastors. "We're the most disconnected city on the planet from the people so don't have a lot of faith in what's going on up here."
"We need a revival in the country. We need another Great Awakening with tent revivals of thousands of people saying reform or see what's going to happen if we don't reform," he added.
At the same meeting he told the pastors that our nation's financial woes stem from the country's spiritual brokenness. "It's a spiritual problem as much as it is any other problem. All the other problems kind of stem from a brokenness that is out there," Paul stated.
Paul has also said that government can't fix the moral crisis our country is facing during that same meeting. "Don't always look to Washington to solve anything," Paul said. "In fact, the moral crisis we have in our country, there is a role for us trying to figure out things like marriage, there's also a moral crisis that allows people to think that there would be some sort of other marriage. And so, really there's a role outside and inside government but the exhortation to sort of change people's thoughts has to come through the countryside, from outside of Washington."
In response to the Charleston shooting Paul told the audience assembled for the Faith & Freedom Coalition event in Washington, DC said there is a sickness in the country that can't be solved by more laws.
"What kind of person goes into church and shoots nine people? There's a sickness in our country. There's something terribly wrong. But it isn't going to be fixed by your government. It's people straying away, it's people not understanding where salvation comes from. I think if we understand that, we'll have better expectations of what to expect from government," Paul asserted.
Yet he has to do a balancing act between evangelical's social conservatism on one hand, and libertarians on the other. His campaign's focus has been to discuss privacy and personal liberty matters where there could be some overlap between the groups, as well as, with younger voters.
The issue of marriage, especially in light of the Supreme Court's decision to be released at any time could strain that coalition. Libertarians, by and large, do not want government interference in marriage. Paul is on the record saying that he would prefer it be left to the states, and that he doesn't want to register his marriage with the government.
Evangelical social conservatives on the other hand see the Supreme Court's decision should they rule in favor of same-sex marriage as expected as federal interference with state laws and constitutional amendments, and yet another example of a runaway judiciary. They're looking for answers and Paul has been silent.
Paul has spoken out on the topic of religious liberty however. Last week at the Faith & Freedom Coalition, but he didn't just talk about what was going on domestically. "There is a war on Christianity, not just from liberal elites here at home, but worldwide. And your government, or more correctly, you, the taxpayer, are funding it," Paul said. "You are being taxed to send money to countries that are not only intolerant of Christians but openly hostile. Christians are imprisoned and threatened with death for their beliefs."
Recently, however, Paul was criticized for his initial silence on the controversy over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act which the Indiana Legislature and Governor Mike Pence later gutted after pressure from the corporate world.
He later defended the law in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News. "I think what's amazing to me is that it's (RFRA) necessary. This was the debate when our founding started. Our Founding Fathers didn't even want a Bill of Rights. They thought it would be so understood that you had the right to express your religious liberty that no one would ever question it, and some thought that if you listed a bill of rights that some would believe that is all of your rights. I think our Founders would be aghast that anyone would think that they could tell you to do something, to perform a ceremony or be part of a ceremony, that's against your religious beliefs. That being said, though, I think the law ought to be neutral, and I don't think we ought to treat people unfairly," he stated.
"I don't think you can have coercion in a free society very well. I mean, they–seem to be antagonistic. So, I would think that we ought to try freedom in most of these things. And then, also, people ought to understand that people's opinions change through persuasion…so, if people want to convince people that other forms of marriage are fine, they need to do it through persuasion," Paul added.
Some evangelicals have expressed concerns about his commitment to Israel and his non-interventionist foreign policy as it relates to fighting terrorism. Paul recently changed course on Israel visiting the country for the 1st time in 2013. He recently submitted the Stand with Israel Act that would have defunded the Palestinian Authority. While Paul has criticized military action in Iraq and Afghanistan he also advocated for the United States to declare war on ISIS.
Also there are questions why Paul has avoided certain venues. He skipped Congressman Steve King's Freedom Summit in January that had over 1000 grassroots activists present. He did speak at the Iowa Faith & Freedom event in April, but is skipping The FAMiLY Leadership Summit for the second year in a row. His campaign told Caffeinated Thoughts that there was a scheduling conflict on July 18, but did not elaborate on what he is opting to do on that Saturday.
His absence from what promises to be the largest gathering of evangelicals in the state, especially in light of the Iowa Straw Poll's cancellation, is mind-boggling to some political observers.
"In my opinion this ends any remote chances he still had to make any inroads to the evangelical vote in Iowa, which is going to be about two-thirds of the electorate next February. Apparently his plan is to see if 7-10% wins next year. I don't understand that strategy," nationally syndicated talk show host Steve Deace said on his Facebook page.
Not all disagree with his approach. Mark Doland, who is minister at Park Avenue Church of Christ in Oskaloosa, IA, has been a vocal supporter of Paul's and recently said that if Paul won 10 to 15% of the evangelical vote Paul would be doing well, especially in light of his efforts to expand the Republican base among younger voters and minorities.
In an op/ed published on Monday by The Des Moines Register Doland also said that he used to buy into all of the cliches and that if a candidate expressed support for life and marriage he could be won over easily. Not anymore, Doland states he's looking for more substance.
He was impressed with Paul's call to reform the criminal justice system.
"Rand Paul is committed to reforming our broken criminal justice system. We are feeling the shock waves through our culture because it wasn't addressed sooner. I strongly believe that the punishment should fit the crime.
When I was 13 years old I met my biological father for the first time. I developed a relationship and bonded with him. It was something I had dreamed about. Two years later, my father was arrested for conspiracy charges on drug trafficking. As a young man in an impressionable stage, it caused a crisis in my life. My dream was annihilated.
My father was sentenced to 13 years in prison. While I do not dispute that my father committed a crime and should have been incarcerated, I don't believe that the penalty for his crime was appropriate. My little brother has followed that path and I believe that it has been directly related to the fatherlessness he experienced as a teenager.
Upon completion of his sentence I am happy to report that my father has reformed and is now a Christian. Rand Paul understands the unintended consequences of this type of justice system and is committed to reforming it."
Doland also said he also appreciated how Paul has gone on the offense with the life issue.
The courtship continues, albeit, it is not a traditional one Iowa evangelicals are used to seeing from candidates. Paul has the ability to draw some evangelicals provided he can maintain the delicate balance he has with the libertarians in the party.