'I better get me a Jesus-loving man . . . in the White House'
Republican race: Fight for evangelical right will decide Saturday’s first-in-the-south primary
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz receives an endorsement from “Duck Dynasty” TV show star Phil Robertson at a rally at the College of Charleston in Columbia, South Carolina. Photograph: EPA
The long-bearded patriarch of the Louisiana multi-million “duck-call” business – the star of the hit reality sitcom Duck Dynasty – is a hero to social conservatives for his blunt views on homosexuality.
Campaigning for Cruz, he has said the Texas senator could restore the US to biblical values and called same-sex marriage “evil” and “wicked”. At the senator’s rally yesterday in Myrtle Beach, the bible-quoting southerner praised the virtues of monogamy – “keep your sex right there” – and warned about 110 million Americans with sexually transmitted diseases.
Robertson is exactly the kind of celebrity Cruz needs to stump for him in South Carolina if he is to beat frontrunner billionaire Donald Trump. Today the state will vote in a primary, the third nominating contest in the US presidential race and the first in the south.
The state’s evangelical Christians will influence the outcome of the primary and the conservative firebrand’s unvarnished campaign attacks on political correctness and the Washington consensus appeals to the same people as Robertson does. “I better get me a staunch bible-believing, Jesus-loving, Godly man. We better give him the White House and we better get him in there quick,” said Robertson.
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The leading Republicans – Trump, Cruz and Florida senator Marco Rubio – have all been courting evangelicals in South Carolina as their presidential race turns sharply southward where the Christian vote is critical to maintaining momentum.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll on the eve of the primary showed the race tightening. Trump took 28 per cent, Cruz 23 per cent and Rubio 15 per cent.
The race has turned nasty with Trump, Cruz and Rubio playing “liar, liar” this week on their records. Cruz and Rubio are in a particularly hard fight for second place.
It could be a watershed moment for former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who polled at 13 per cent and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Ohio governor John Kasich, who each have 9 per cent. “It is do-or-die for a lot of these guys,” said Ron Hughes, a retired military man at the Cruz rally. “There are going to be some guys dropping out on Sunday morning.”
Supporters admire Cruz’s conservative record, his aggressive stances on immigration and Islamic State militants, and his strict adherence to the US constitution.
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Thirty minutes down the coast, a Rubio rally is cancelled due to “airplane mechanical issues” in a potential bad omen for the 44-year-old and his hopes that his campaign can take off again in South Carolina after crashing to fifth in New Hampshire.
Rubio has scored big endorsements from prominent South Carolinian politicians, including the state’s popular governor Nikki Haley, a potential vice-presidential pick in November. Rubio’s supporters believe they will help him today; Cruz’s don’t. “It’s not going to sway me one bit,” said Mike Loebs, another retired military man, waiting to meet Cruz in Myrtle Beach after his rally.