Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is stepping up his game in Iowa.
The first term Texas senator has picked up influential endorsements there and is drawing bigger crowds.
At the stage of the race when many caucus-goers are still deciding who to support in the first in the nation presidential caucus, Cruz is making a big play for Iowa evangelical voters, who helped Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012 win the Iowa Republican caucuses.
On the first Sunday of Advent at the Christian Life Assembly of God Church in Des Moines, Ted Cruz, a Southern Baptist, appeared to feel right at home.
"It is so wonderful to have a chance to spend Thanksgiving Sunday together. Thank you for welcoming me here," said Cruz.
At the church, Cruz talked about how he sees the country's religious liberties under attack but did not mention any of the polls that show him closing in second place in Iowa and gaining ground on front-runner Donald Trump.
In a lighter moment, Cruz recited a scene from his favorite movie: The Princess Bride.
"He's just an honest, Christian man. That's what I really appreciate about him," said Mardell Cory, a massage therapist who waited in line to give Cruz a hug and get a picture signed. She'd had her choice down to Cruz and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson but now plans to volunteer for the Cruz campaign.
For her part, churchgoer Sarah Foster said she and her husband see many good candidates, including political newcomers Carson, Trump and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. But after hearing Cruz speak she's leaning towards him.
"He definitely goes against the grain and we really like that," said Foster, who said national security has become the key issue for her.
Churchgoer Keith Leslie argued that Cruz was earning his support in part because he believed Donald Trump isn't fit to be president.
"I think he's an even bigger egomaniac than Barack Obama. With this guy we could see the next Mussolini if Trump gets elected," said Leslie, who emphasized that he appreciated that Trump has raised important issues for Republicans.
Even as Cruz builds his support among Iowa evangelicals with an eye towards winning the caucus, the state's track record of selecting eventual GOP nominee is poor. The last Republican nominee to win Iowa was George W. Bush in 2000. Copyright 2019 Iowa Public Radio News. To see more, visit Iowa Public Radio News.