Ted Cruz, who has focused on attracting evangelicals, may have gotten the ultimate “get” of endorsements this week: Phil Robertson, aka Duck Commander, reality TV star and gun-totin’ preacher.
From the launch of his campaign last March at conservative Christian Liberty University, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has made evangelical Christians a centerpiece of his campaign. And Robertson, who made a fortune from duck calls and whose family appears on A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” is a celebrity in the world of Christian faith-driven voters.
In an ad that is sure to appeal to those voters, Robertson, dressed in camouflage, said, “My qualifications for president of the United States are rather narrow: Is he or she godly, does he or she love us, can he or she do the job and, finally, would they kill a duck and put him in a pot and make him a good duck gumbo?”
The Iowa GOP Caucus, which selects the party’s nominee from the state, is fast approaching on Feb. 1. Evangelicals are a huge factor: They made up 57 percent of caucusgoers in 2012.
And Donald Trump, the billionaire national front-runner who has trailed Cruz in some Iowa polls, has, as part of his strategy to go after opponents, gone after his competitor on faith.
“Not many evangelicals come out of Cuba,” Trump has said at several campaign stops, trying to throw some doubt about Cruz and his Cuban father’s Baptist faith.
In a radio interview in New Hampshire this week, Cruz told Boston’s WRKO, “Listen, anytime somebody’s attacking your faith, it starts to suggest they’re getting really nervous about what’s happening in the race.”
Cruz often tells the story of his faith and of his father’s conversion from a fast-living oil industry businessman to God-fearing preacher, but he deflects attention from the religion of both his parents, who were Roman Catholic before embracing evangelical Christianity.
In his book, “A Time for Truth,” Cruz said, “Although my mom and dad had both been raised in nominally Christian homes, faith at that time was not real to either one of them.”
Although my mom and dad had both been raised in nominally Christian homes, faith at that time was not real to either one of them.
Ted Cruz, in his book, ‘A Time for Truth’
Both his mother, Eleanor Darragh, and his father, Rafael Cruz, married their first spouses in the Catholic Church. According to the Travis County, Texas, marriage certificate obtained by McClatchy, Cruz married Julia Garza on April 5, 1959, at St. Austin’s Catholic Church.
And according to an announcement in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Eleanor Darragh married Alan Wilson of Fort Worth on Sept. 1, 1956, at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Houston.
Cruz, born in Calgary, Alberta, in 1970 after his parents’ 1969 marriage, himself may have been baptized in the Catholic Church. Gillian Steward, a journalist who knew Cruz’s parents in Calgary and socialized with them before he was born, told McClatchy, “I think I went to his christening.”
“It was understood they were Catholic,” said Steward.
Baptismal records are private. “We cannot disclose that information,” said Sonia Razniwski, of the Catholic Pastoral Centre in Calgary.
Cruz said in “A Time for Truth” that both his parents became born-again Christians. “In 1979, I too asked Jesus to be my savior at Clay Road Baptist Church,” he wrote.
Does it matter to evangelicals whether Cruz or his father was Catholic?
“Evangelicals love his father, and his father’s been a tremendous surrogate for him,” said Dennis Goldford, professor of political science at Drake University in Des Moines.
“So much for that culture is the ‘come to Jesus’ moment,” said Goldford. “There’s a difference between being Catholic and having been Catholic.”
And indeed, some Catholics practice in the evangelical tradition.
In addition to Robertson, Cruz announced endorsements in the last two days from Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of Liberty Institute, which leads legal battles on religious liberty cases, and Paul Blair, president of Reclaiming America for Christ and a well-known Oklahoma pastor.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram Research Director Cathy Belcher contributed to this article.