Sen. Ted Cruz headed to his home state of Texas this week to court prominent Christian conservative leaders in his effort to cement Religious Right support going into the GOP presidential primary. The gathering, which was held at the ranch of social conservative mega-donors Farris and Dan Wilks and organized in part by conservative activist and pro-Cruz super PAC head David Barton, drew 300 guests, the Washington Post reported, overflowing the Wilks’ home.
The Post reports that among the guests were John Hagee, the controversial pastor whose endorsement John McCain was pressured to reject in 2008, former top Southern Baptist leader Richard Land, and Focus on the Family and Family Research Council founder James Dobson, who has already officially endorsed Cruz:
The crowd was so large that when Cruz spoke the Wilkses had to open the pool patio doors to accommodate about 100 guests who stood in 28 degree weather to listen to the senator.
… By the end of the six-hour meeting Monday, dozens of the visitors lined up outside a closed room to tape video endorsements of the Cruz presidential bid. Some attended Super PAC and campaign fundraisers held Tuesday in Cisco that were timed to coincide with the fly-in.
The gathering could have been even larger. Mike Gonzalez, who leads the South Carolina Pastors Alliance, was disappointed that some of his fellow clergymen were not able to make it because bad weather caused flight cancellations.
However, when he arrived at the ranch he was stunned to see a crowd of about 300, “including many of the most prominent spiritual influencers in the country.”
Those in attendance at the Monday sessions included prominent televangelists, such as John Hagee, pastor of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, and James Dobson, founder of the Focus on the Family organization. Richard Land, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary and a longtime leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, was there, according to interviews with attendees, most of whom were not authorized to discuss the off-the-record session. They said that there were a number of Hispanic and African American clerics in the audience, including Gonzalez and Voddie Baucham, a well-known pastor in Texas.
“It was a very diverse group of national leaders who have significant standing,” said David Barton, a Texas Republican author and activist who is leading one of the Super PACs that sponsored the gathering. “We brought them with no expectations and we were highly pleased with the number who decided Ted is the right man to be of the president of the U.S.”
Barton said the purpose of the gathering was “to give people an opportunity to become acquainted with Ted’s faith and see if they were comfortable with it.”
The Texas Tribune reports that prominent Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson was also in attendance and came away impressed, calling it “the finest presentation I ever heard from a candidate.”
The Tribune reports that Cruz praised the Wilks brothers for their efforts to pull the country “back from the brink” and stop the “relentless assault we’ve seen on constitutional liberties and Judeo-Christian values”:
Speaking with reporters before the rally capping his two days in Cisco, Cruz heaped praise on the brothers, lauding their contributions to the oil industry in Texas as well as Christian activism throughout the country.
“They’re people for whom their faith is very important, and they’ve been willing to devote their resources to fighting for principles of religious liberty, fighting to defend life, fighting to defend marriage, fighting to defend the constitutional liberties on which this country is founded,” Cruz told reporters. “Their entire family is focused on pulling this country back from the brink, from the relentless assault we’ve seen on constitutional liberties and Judeo-Christian values.”
Before the rally, the Cruz family hosted a fundraiser at the community center that the Wilks were expected to attend. Sitting outside the room was another ode to the prominent hosts: a large placard reading, “A special thanks from Heidi & Ted Cruz to our hosts The Wilks Family.”