During the four-hour North Texas Presidential Forum, sponsored by the Faith & Freedom Coalition, the candidates individually directly addressed the crowd of 7,000 for the first 10 minutes on issues ranging from religious liberty to foreign policy. The last 20 minutes were directed to Q&A moderated by Pastor Dr. Jack Graham.
The first largest Presidential forum in Texas so far in this election cycle offered presidential hopefuls a chance to dominate Texas earlier than expected. With Texas moving its primary up from May to now March 1 on ‘Super Tuesday’, the country’s largest conservative state will now play a pivotal role in shaping the dynamics of the presidential nomination for the candidate still standing by March to snag the state’s 155 delegates.
Prestonwood Church officials invited all presidential hopefuls, including Democrats, to participate in the forum but only six candidates agreed to attend the forum: Senator Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Carly Florina, former Governor Mike Huckabee, former Senator Rick Santorum, and former Governor Jeb Bush. Frontrunner Donald Trump didn’t participate in the forum. As for the Democratic side, neither leading candidates Hillary Clinton or Senator Bernie Sanders responded to the invitation. “Everyone was invited to come, but we believe the right people are in the room today,” said Pastor Graham.
Carly Florina was first as she spoke in a more personal tone about the life experiences that brought her closer to God, such as her child’s death, her breast cancer diagnosis, and accompanying a friend to Planned Parenthood for an abortion. “I have been tested. My faith has been tested,” Fiorina said, explaining her personal relationship with Jesus Christ helped get her through it all. “And on this journey, my faith and my family will see me through.”
Fiorina, the only woman running in the crowded Republican field, was asked about the ‘War on Woman’ issue that Democrats use to say Christian Conservatives think lesser of woman. “Democrats play identity politics. They put people in groups: You’re a woman, you care about this,” Fiorina said. She continued to add how her candidacy has been called ‘offensive’ by the left. “If you don’t agree with their orthodoxy, somehow you’re not the right kind of woman,” she added. “For those of you who managed to watch the debate, Hillary Clinton’s rationale for her candidacy seems to be that she is a woman and she’s going to be the first woman president. She can’t run on her track record as Secretary of State.” Florina concluded that she doesn’t want voters to support or vote for her solely based on her gender, but because she believes she is the most qualified candidate to win and to do the job. “I very much hope that I can earn your support and your votes and continue to have your prayers, but I will never ask for your vote or your support because I am a woman – though I am proud to be one.”
Hometown favorite Senator Ted Cruz received tremendous applause and standing ovations from the crowd throughout his remarks. Cruz remarks focused solely on the increasing threats of religious liberty. He recalled of a rally he held in Iowa last month in defense of religious liberty that he said was “the single largest political event in Iowa held this year.” The rally, Cruz said hosted “nine heroes who told their stories of their faith was tested and who stood up to stand with God.”
“I believe that 2016 is going to be a religious-liberty election,” Cruz said. “I believe 2016 will be an election like 1980. It took Jimmy Carter to give us Ronald Reagan. So I can’t wait to see where we are headed next.”
On his presidential campaign, Cruz expressed admiration for Donald Trump framing the central issue of who will stand up to Washington. “The next question is who actually has stood up to Washington. And I can’t think of a better question to decide this race because in that regard, my record is different from that of anyone on that stage,” he said to loud applause. Giving examples of fights he was proud to lead such as in 2013 against Obamacare, in 2014 with Obama illegal executive amnesty and recently the fight against Planned Parenthood, Cruz ask where were the other candidates while he was leading the fight. “Every candidate during the debate in California looked into the camera and said we should defund Planned Parenthood, its easier to say that but where were they?” Cruz said. “Can you imagine if 11 Republican presidential candidates descended to Washington and spoke in unison to say ‘don’t send $500 million of taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood.”
Santorum, a former Pennsylvania Senator used his remarks to tout his political record and his success to work with Democrats to get reforms enacted. “Washington can work again with someone who is a Conservative,” Santorum said. The only speaker in the forum who is polling 1% national and hasn’t appeared in the top-tier main debate stage boasted about his familiarity with the Middle East during his remarks. He noted how he was featured in an ISIS magazine under the headline: ‘In the Words of the Enemy.’ At his closing remark, Santorum was emotional when he ask the Pastor and everyone to “pray for all the candidates’ spouses and children, they are the ones the devil wants to get to” mentioning how critics tarnish his name because of his views of traditional marriage and his wife and children bear the effects of his candidacy.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, another favorite among evangelical spoke about religious persecution among Christians. Huckabee, who was a minister before getting into the political arena, defended Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed over the summer for refusing to issue a marriage licenses to gay couples. “If you put a public official in jail for believing the Biblical view of marriage, you have criminalized Christianity,” he said.” Last month, Huckabee headline a rally for Davis shortly after her release from jail.
Pastor Graham endorsed Huckabee in his 2008 presidential campaign, but it is unclear who the Pastor will endorse this time around with the enormous GOP field as Cruz, Huckabee and Carson are now the favorites amongst evangelicals.
Dr. Ben Carson, who is polling second in the GOP race and has strong support amongst evangelical voters, told the crowd it’s important to embrace the nation Judeo-Christian foundation. “It’s in our core founding documents, it’s in our courts, it’s in our pledge and it’s on our money, but we’re not supposed to talk about it?”
During Carson’s remarks, he told his life story of being a trouble teenager with anger issues until he began reading the bible and found a way to have a calm demeanor. “With a temper like that, I would never realize my dream of becoming a physician,” he said. Carson recalled his 2013 National Prayer Breakfast speech that criticized President Obama captured national attention and supporters who convinced him to run. “God opened the doors, and he continued to open the doors,” Carson said, adding “It is time for us to bring God back to our country.”
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was the final candidate to speak about his conversion to Catholicism. During his remarks, he reiterated his record as governor of Florida and how faith shaped his public policy stance on social issues. As governor, Bush defunded Planned Parenthood, allocated state money for crisis pregnancy centers, and banned partial birth abortion. “I was totally all in on the question of life,” Bush said. “I had the chance to act on this core belief and I stood on the side of life.”
The biggest standing ovation for Bush came when Pastor Graham injected himself into a boiling feud between Bush and Trump.
“George W. Bush did keep us safe, no matter what anybody says,” Graham said, as the audience erupted into loud applause. “And he should be held to account for this ridiculous statement.”