Christian leader Jerry Falwell Jr. on Tuesday endorsed Donald TrumpDonald TrumpEx-CIA analyst resigns rather than serve Trump administration Matt Schlapp op-ed: Challenges, controversy won't stop CPAC 2017 Anti-Trump protests swell outside Parliament during debate on official visit MORE for the White House in a move that could reverberate in the fight for evangelical voters in Iowa.
Falwell, the son of famed televangelist Jerry Falwell, called Trump “a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”
“It is truly an honor to receive Jerry’s endorsement,” Trump said in a statement. “Not only is he a high-quality person, with a wonderful family, whom I have great respect for, I also consider him a very good friend, and his support means so much to me.”
Trump is battling with Ted CruzTed CruzTrump to speak at CPAC Trump to interview four candidates for national security adviser Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at CPAC MORE for a win in the Feb. 1 caucuses in Iowa, where evangelical voters are major voting bloc.
According to the RealClearPolitics average, Trump holds a 5.7-point lead over Cruz, with no other candidate within striking distance.
Cruz had success early in rallying many evangelical leaders to his cause, but Falwell's endorsement shows that many Christian conservatives are at peace with Trump’s unorthodox outreach to leaders in the faith community.
Trump does not speak the language of faith leaders as fluently as Cruz can, but he has made a point of arguing at Iowa rallies that evangelicals can trust him to be a staunch advocate on their behalf.
A NBC News-Survey Monkey online poll released on Tuesday showed Trump’s efforts are paying off. He took 37 percent support from white evangelicals in that survey, compared to 20 percent for Cruz.
Still, most surveys show Cruz with a healthy lead among evangelicals and Tea Party supporters; Trump’s strongholds have been self-described moderate or liberal Republicans.