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Donald Trump loses Iowa to Ted Cruz and his evangelical “prayer team”

By Adam Pasick

Donald Trump’s apparent edge in the polls failed to translate to victory tonight (Feb. 1) in Iowa, as Sen. Ted Cruz won the first-in-the-nation caucus, largely thanks to the support of the state’s numerous and well-organized evangelical Christian voters.

CBS New, ABC News, and CNN are all projecting a Cruz victory, with about 80% of precincts reporting. Marco Rubio scored a better-than-expected third-place finish, nipping at Trump’s heels.

As Quartz’s Tim Fernholz reported in December, winning Iowa was always going to be difficult for Trump, given that deeply religious protestant Christans make up 56% of the state’s voters, and a much higher percentage of Republican caucus-goers:

Trump, for all the right-wing scorn he directs at Muslims, is ultimately a libertine New Yorker who can’t talk about being born again, who used to support abortion, and hasn’t won the affection of key leaders in the evangelical movement.

Trump made several high-profile religious gaffes in the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses that betrayed an unfamiliarity with evangelical Christianity, including a reference to “Two Corinthians” (rather than the New Testament’s “Second Corinthians”) in a speech to students at ultra-christian Liberty University, and mistakenly putting money into a Communion plate during a church service yesterday.

And, though he won the endorsement of Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., his erratic approach was personified in personal attacks against Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats in the days ahead of the voting.

Cruz, on the other hand, is a pastor’s son who is very comfortable speaking in the language of personal redemption that is the lingua franca among evangelicals. In January, his campaign started a “national prayer team” to “establish a direct line of communication between our campaign and the thousands of Americans who are lifting us up before the Lord.”