Marco Rubio Impresses Evangelical Pastors in Iowa
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Donald Trump might be getting the attention in this presidential race but other candidates are slowly moving up on the frontrunner. One of them is Marco Rubio who's starting to make a strong pitch for evangelicals, specifically in Iowa.
So far, Rubio's best moments have come on the debate stage where he has shown off both his poise and intellect. He's combining those moments with a pro-America personal story on the campaign trail.
"This is not just the nation that I was born in," Rubio told a crowd in Grinnell, Iowa. "This is the country that literally changed the history of my family. My parents were not born into a rich family. They were both born into poor families on the island of Cuba."
Those two elements have led to a candidate on the rise.
Private Meeting with Pastors
Behind the scenes, there are signs that Democrats and Hillary Clinton campaign officials would rather not take him on in the General Election.
"I think if we're the nominee, we're going to beat her," Rubio told CBN News. "That's one of the reasons I chose to run for president. I believe, with all due respect, that I give our party the best chance to win this election."
With all due respect, he has a crowded field to pass, especially in Iowa where voters get first crack. Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump are doing well here and Rubio knows he will need to score with the crucial evangelical audience in the Hawkeye state.
During Thanksgiving week, CBN News gained exclusive access to private meetings between Rubio and about 100 pastors in both Cedar Rapids and Des Moines. The gathering was sponsored by the influential American Renewal Project, which works to get pastors politically engaged.
Rubio seems ready to fight for these values.
"To ignore our Judeo-Christian values is to ignore the founding of our country and the principals that allowed this country to become great," Rubio told CBN News.
"This nation was founded on the belief that every person has natural rights that come from their Creator, and that's where we get free enterprise, that's where we get our republic," he continued. "If you don't have a creator, then what is the source of your rights? The government? The law?"
Inside the room with pastors, Rubio took the opportunity to tell them more about him, like his short-lived college football career.
"About a year into my career there, I realized that I was destined for the National Football League except for my lack of size, speed, and talent," Rubio joked.
Israel and Religious Liberty
Also during the meeting, he spoke on issues near and dear to his evangelical audience, like his support for Israel.
"Today we have a president that treats Israel with less respect than what he gives the ayatollah in Iran," he said.
And of course he brought up the topic of radical Islam.
"If you want me to bring it to home, they believe one day the state of Iowa will be governed, or what today is known as the state of Iowa, will be governed by Islamic law as they interpret it," he said.
Rubio also expanded on the religious nature of the conflict in our Cedar Rapids interview.
"The reason why the religion part of it is important is because that is what motivates them. You have to understand what it is that is motivating someone to take action," he said. "Usually, it's a geopolitical desire or a nationalistic desire."
"In the case of radical Islam, they are motivated by their interpretation of their faith, which they believe obligates them to kill anyone who does not accept their teachings," he said.
Rubio also addressed a growing fear inside our country, the threat to religious liberty rights under the Constitution.
"Religious liberty is not just the right to believe anything you want. Religious liberty is the right to live and exercise your faith in every aspect of your life," he told pastors.
A Faith Alive
With social issues and moral values under attack, he believes pastors need to play a crucial role.
"A lot of pastors and churches I've run into have become concerned about speaking truth on some of these issues because they don't want people to be offended in the pulpit because they don't want to scare or drive people away," Rubio told CBN News.
"They want to--people want to hear happy talk sometimes when they show up to church. But I think those in the pulpit have an obligation to preach truth," he said.
Those in the pulpit also came to these private meetings wanting to know about Rubio's spiritual truth, with one pastor asking point blank, "Tell us about your experience with the Lord Jesus Christ using that name."
That opening gave Rubio a chance to explain how attending an evangelical church with his wife brought his Roman Catholic faith alive.
"I didn't learn about the Catholic church until I went to a non-Catholic church and became infused in the Bible and became infused in the written word of God. And then, and only then, did the liturgy of the church start even making sense," he explained.
It was at that point during the answer that these pastors saw and heard "Candidate Rubio" morph into "Pastor Rubio."
"As far my relationship with Jesus Christ the best way I've been able to describe it to people that are not believers is God became a man, came down to earth and died for our sins," he said.
"He provided the ultimate sacrifice because up to that point we lived under the law and the law meant that we had to sacrifice an unblemished lamb to cover our sins, not erase them," he continued. "God was the ultimate sacrifice. It was his own son."
Winning over Evangelicals
That satisfied the pastor who asked the question.
"I wanted to know his relationship with Jesus Christ and, boy, he had a good answer, didn't he?" Kenney Linhart, pastor of Kathedral Church in Des Moines, said. "We're pulling pretty strong for Marco Rubio right now. We're not completely there but, boy, tonight sure was a game changer."
But it wasn't an easy win. One pastor challenged him on receiving support from rich Republican donor Paul Singer, who aggressively supports same-sex marriage.
"How do I know that he's not going to direct you, that he's not going to sway a large amount of influence over you?" he asked.
Rubio didn't miss a beat.
"When someone cooperates with my campaign, they are buying into my agenda," Rubio told the assembled pastors. "I am not buying into their agenda and that has been very clear in my history."
What came next? Applause throughout the room as that answer seemed to do the trick.
"I think my favorite line was when he said when a donor gives money to me they buy into me, I don't buy into them. I think that was well put," Royce Phillips, pastor at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Iowa City, said.
Rubio sees this effort as just the beginning of his relationship with evangelicals. Hurdles still remain such as questions about why he teamed up with Democrats on immigration reform.
For now, though, Rubio is making new evangelical friends and getting prayed up in the process. At the end of each meeting, pastors prayed over Rubio.
"We claim the favor and wisdom," they exclaimed. "And power of the mighty one to be upon you now."