Several 2016 presidential hopefuls made their pitches to the influential gathering of social conservatives over the weekend at the 2014 Values Voter Summit, with at least one past GOP presidential contender urging evangelicals to show up at the polls if they’re upset at the direction of the country.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas won the presidential straw poll for the second consecutive year, taking 25 percent of the vote, but neurosurgeon Ben Carson was a close second, with 20 percent, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was third, with 12 percent.
Mr. Cruz fired up the audience at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., Friday morning with a speech that delved into the personal, when he talked about his father wanting to leave the family until he discovered Christ.
“So when anyone asks is faith real, is a relationship with Jesus real? I can tell you if it were not for my father giving his life to Christ, I would have been raised by a single mother without having my dad in the home,” he said. “Every one of us, we have seen first-hand that in utter darkness hope remains.”
Andrew Ladner of Swansboro, North Carolina, said he was torn between former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Mr. Cruz.
“But either one of those — they’re true conservatives, they will not back down and moderate themselves, which the rest of the Republican party needs to understand,” he said.
Mr. Ladner was one of slightly less than 2,000 registered attendees for this year’s annual conference.
Mr. Huckabee, who won the summit’s straw poll in 2012, said the religious-minded need to turn out the vote, saying that if 10 percent more evangelicals had voted in the last presidential election, the outcome would have been different.
“Imagine what would happen if the people of faith, the value voters of America — the evangelicals, the pro-life and pro-family Catholics and Protestants from all over this country would let it be known: we are registered, and we will show up,” he said.
Mr. Santorum finished fourth in the straw poll, with about 10 percent of the vote, and was followed by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — two more possible 2016 contenders — who were each at about 7 percent.
In his address, Mr. Jindal layered in a folksy personal history with a stinging criticism of President Obama’s policies at home and abroad.
“Here’s what I believe: As America’s culture goes, so goes America,” Mr. Jindal said. “I’m we’ve got a free market. … I’m glad we have a democratic system. But it’s not the economy, stupid. Rather, it’s the culture, stupid.”
Mr. Jindal and Mr. Cruz made much the same pitches the next day in Iowa, where they urged the 700 people who turned out for an event sponsored by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition to help state Sen. Joni Ernst emerge victorious in her U.S. Senate race against Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley.
Mr. Paul, who typically finds more support among the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, nevertheless still had his fans at the gathering.
“Obviously, I think he’s the best for the job,” said John Phelps, of Providence Force, Virginia. “He’s got the best vision, he’s got the ability to express himself in specifics instead of broad brush what he wants to do, what he thinks, what he believes. He has a set of concrete values and I think he’s attractive to many, many people for that reason. He’s electable. Not only do I like him, but he’s electable.”