DES MOINES - Two Republican senators on Friday were courting a group that could wield powerful influence over the outcome of the state's 2016 GOP presidential caucuses: Iowa's evangelical pastors.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a conservative who rocketed to GOP stardom last year with a primary win over one of Texas' most powerful Republicans, privately addressed the conservative American Renewal Project on Friday morning in his first trip to Iowa.
"Pastors in Iowa and across the country are critical leaders, and pastors have a responsibility to speak up for their convictions," Cruz said after the speech. "I am honored to have the opportunity to visit with pastors who are speaking the truth about the enormous challenges this nation faces."
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to local residents during a fundraising picnic for the Iowa Republican Party, Friday, in Des Moines.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, the son of former 2012 presidential candidate, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, also spoke at the gathering around midday Friday.
"I think the Republican Party base is people who go to church. If you poll people and ask them if they go to church, maybe 60 percent of them vote Republican," Paul said after the event.
Cruz also headlined a small state Republican fundraiser at lunchtime, while Paul - who visited Iowa in the spring - was set to have a closed-door evening meeting with Latino and African American ministers from around the country. Before that session, Paul said the GOP needs to do a better job of outreach to diversify membership.
"I think if you ask people generically about issues, I think you'll find that a significant number of African-Americans as well as Hispanics are in favor of a lot of Republican positions," said Paul, who was joined by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus for the meeting. "We just need to get beyond whatever it is that is preventing people from considering voting for the Republican party."
But some Republicans, such as Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., see the two tea party favorites having limited appeal to voters, not only threatening GOP aspirations of winning back the White House but the party itself. A top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, King said Friday that he, too, was considering a presidential bid in 2016.
King said the fledgling field of Republican presidential candidates - Paul and Cruz included - were not talking about strong national defense or reaching out to the "old Reagan coalition" of working-class voters, such as construction workers, police officers and firefighters.