Would Local Evangelicals Actually Vote for Trump?

Would Local Evangelicals Actually Vote for Trump?

There are a lot of Republican primary voters in Tennessee like Tim Fulghum.

Fulghum attends a megachurch in Nashville and likes presidential candidates whose actions match their words and their faith.

As he sat in a common area of Cornerstone Nashville church on a recent Sunday morning, Fulghum said he likes retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and admires how the candidate is guided by biblical principles.

“Now he’s not, to me, a political guy, but I don’t care. You surround yourself with good people. What I’m looking for is leadership. Someone who can make a decision and go,” Fulghum said. “I like the idea that he’s an outsider.”

Fulghum, who calls himself a New Testament Christian, also likes businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and if recent history is any indicator, voters like him could sway the state’s Republican primary.

Tennessee’s evangelical Christian voters could have a major impact and push the Republican race toward a non-establishment presidential candidate, like Cruz or Trump.

In back-to-back Tennessee primaries, the top winners in the Republican race — Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012 — had strong appeal among social conservative and white evangelical Christian voters. Experts and polls indicate that pattern could continue March 1 when Tennesseans head to the voting booth, although with this year’s crowded GOP race, anything could happen.

If this year’s voters look like the 2012 electorate, Tennessee’s Republican primary should draw among the highest number of white evangelical voters of any state, said Kyle Kondik, the managing editor for political forecasting website Sabato’s Crystal Ball. The 2012 exit polls showed nearly three out of every four voters fit that category, he said.

“This means that one would expect Tennessee to gravitate toward candidates less connected to the party establishment, candidates like Cruz and Trump,” Kondik said. “Granted, Trump doesn’t nearly fit the definition of an evangelical favorite — he’s not overtly religious in his messaging, unlike someone like Cruz — but Trump has shown strength across the ideological spectrum of the GOP so far.”

The brash real estate mogul has led two Tennessee polls. Trump narrowly topped Carson in the Vanderbilt University poll released in December, but he sailed to the top of Middle Tennessee State University’s January poll with 33 percent support. Cruz trailed by 16 points, and Carson and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio scraped together 7 and 5 percent, respectively.

But both those polls were taken before Cruz defeated Trump in the Iowa caucuses last week. And polls aren’t gospel, either. (continue reading at Tennessean)

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