Evangelical voters are a major force in Iowa Republican politics. A force that can tip the balance in the state’s marquee event: the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.
And it’s been that way for a long time. Sixteen years ago those voters delivered in a big way for a Texas governor named George W. Bush. But it’s not likely that the younger brother of that successful presidential hopeful will get that same kind of support in the 2016 election. Jeb Bush is certainly a deeply religious man — and he shares his brother’s conservative views on key social issues. But despite that, many religious voters view the former Florida governor with suspicion.
Last month Jeb Bush visited Iowa’s Loras College, a small, Catholic liberal arts school located in Dubuque.
It may have been an ideal place to talk about his faith in some detail, but the comments he did make came more as an afterthought at the end of his remarks.
“Gosh, what was it, twenty years ago I converted to Catholicism,” Bush said, “It was one of the smartest things I’ve done in my whole life.”
He spoke to a small audience of just over a hundred. Seated in the front row was his wife, Columba Bush, a lifelong Catholic whose religion he joined when he was in his 40s. Bush went on to say, “I believe that it is the architecture that gives me the serenity I need, not just as a public leader or in life. It gives me peace. It allows me to have a closer relationship with my creator.”
It was a firm statement of belief. But it was considerably different than the almost evangelical way George W. Bush spoke about his faith during his first presidential campaign. At the Iowa Straw Poll in the summer of 1999, the future president was cheered when he said, “America’s strongest foundation is not found in our wallets. It is found in our souls.”
As a candidate, George W. Bush often talked about personal redemption. Including how at age 40 he quit drinking, and how he embraced religion with the help of none other than the Reverend Billy Graham. He often spoke of protecting the unborn, as he did in a debate during the 2000 general election campaign.
“I think what the next president ought to do is promote a culture of life in America,” he said.
That played very well with Iowa evanglicals and Bush coasted to victory in the Iowa caucuses. But Christopher Budzisz, a political science professor at Loras College, says George Bush got those voters with more than words. He used organization as well.
“One thing the Bush campaign was very concerted about was reaching out to the church networks and getting advocates for the candidacy oftentimes outside the gaze of the media or public conversation,” said Budzisz.
He says that’s not happening in the same way for Jeb Bush.
Click here to read more.