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The importance of Cruz's 'National Prayer Team'

It's easy to forget just how important a role evangelicals play in Ted Cruz's base of support. Just look at his "National Prayer Team."
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks onto the stage to participate in the North Texas Presidential Forum at Prestonwood Baptist Church Oct. 18, 2015 in Plano, Texas. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty)
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks onto the stage to participate in the North Texas Presidential Forum at Prestonwood Baptist Church Oct. 18, 2015 in Plano, Texas.
Every presidential campaign looks for creative ways to engage voters, activists, and potential supporters, but most White House candidates don't create a "national prayer team." Ted Cruz, however, announced exactly that yesterday.

Mr. Cruz, who has aggressively courted the support of evangelicals, said the creation of the team would “establish a direct line of communication between our campaign and the thousands of Americans who are lifting us up before the Lord.” Group members will receive emails containing prayer requests and a short devotional every week, the campaign said. They will also be invited to take part in a 20-minute “prayer conference call” each Tuesday.

Members of the team will receive "weekly emails containing prayer requests," and participate in a weekly "20-minute prayer conference call."
The announcement came just two days after the Texas senator attended an American Renewal Project event in Virginia with 200 pastors, where he said Scripture calls Christians to be “salt” and “light,” but "you cannot be salt if you don’t come into contact with what you are to preserve; you cannot be light if you are hidden under a bushel. We have an obligation to be watchmen on the wall, not hiding in the back room, afraid of the voices of darkness.”
In recent decades, we can think of all kinds of Republicans who effectively ran for president as the religious right movement's go-to candidate -- Mike Huckabee, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, et al -- but these candidates have always found themselves stuck in that "lane." They connected with social conservatives, who make up a meaningful chunk of the GOP base, but who couldn't propel their candidate to the convention on their own.
Cruz, however, is doing a pretty effective job of bringing evangelicals into his "lane," rather than the other way around. For much of the media, the far-right Texan is widely recognized as the senator who hates "Obamacare," rejects immigration reform, and loves being a thorn in the side of congressional GOP leaders, but to miss his ties to social conservatives is to miss the full picture.
Politico had a good piece on this today.

The hearts of many evangelical voters, polls suggest, are with Ben Carson. But increasingly, their leaders’ heads are with Ted Cruz. While the Texas senator trails the retired pediatric neurosurgeon by double digits in national surveys, prominent evangelical leaders and political operatives who work with the Christian conservative movement say it's the well-funded Cruz who has made the bigger organizational effort with politically active church goers. He’s rounding up the very grass-roots leaders who wield influence with this crucial Republican voting bloc. And here in Iowa, where endorsements have often predicted caucus winners, that matters.

If/when Carson falters, it's likely that much of his support will shift to Cruz's open arms, precisely because the senator has gone to such lengths to lay the groundwork, including Cruz's recent attendance at a scary right-wing event, where he stood alongside a pastor who insists Scripture calls for the death penalty as punishment for homosexuality.
Watch this space.