SIOUX CENTER, Iowa — If Ted Cruz wins Iowa, he will owe it to the same portion of the electorate that carried Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum to Iowa wins in 2008 and 2012: the evangelical vote.
If Cruz loses Iowa, and if he falls short of the 1/3 of evangelicals Santorum harnessed four years ago, the reason may lie here in Sioux County — which is 47 percent Dutch.
Evangelical Christianity isn't homogenous, and the Dutch Reformed church, which dominates this corner of Iowa, is different in ways that could cut against Cruz, who is second in the Washington Examiner's presidential power rankings.
"There are a lot of elements of Christian triumphalism that Cruz projects which Rubio doesn't," tells me Prof. Scott Culpepper at Dordt College — named after the historic Synod of Dordt. Rubio's tone and his view of Christianity's role in America, "I think attracts some evangelicals who are moving away from that sort of Christian triumphalism, Christian-America rhetoric."
At Jeb Bush's town hall at Dordt, the crowd was more focused on showing compassion than on being hard line.
John Lee, pastor of Bethel Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Center, asked Jeb about immigrants and compassion.
Lee explained to me the attitude of his parishioners this way: he said he has 700 people at church every Sunday, and he knows of exactly one Trump supporter among them.
Dutch Reformed Christianity, Lee argues, shows "compassion from the unborn to the undocumented."
This extends to Cruz, Lee argues. Cruz is "out of step with evangelicals on immigration."
Students, professors, and adults from the neighborhood all describe their desired traits in candidates to include being respectful, showing compassion.
Holly Hiemstra, a freshman at Dordt College, says of her classmates and her community, "largely people look at the social issues." In this regard, Ted Cruz seems just as solid as Huckabee and Santorum. But she nor the other freshmen sitting with her at the Bush rally are backing Cruz, largely because of his combative, sometimes vitriolic tone.
Cruz's immigration policies, like Rubio's, have varied. But Rubio tries to blend compassion and firmness. For Cruz it's less of a blend. Rubio's foreign policy is hawkish, but Cruz talks of carpet-bombing and making sand glow — seemingly a reference to nuclear attacks.
At Rubio's event in Sioux City I met Kevin Van Otterloo, the mayor of Otterloo, a majority-Dutch town in Sioux County. As I wrote:
Rock Valley, Iowa, is 55 percent Dutch. The Reformed Church dominates the town as it does most of Sioux County. Rubio, Van Otterloo says, "fits the mold" of Dutch Country: "conservative, helping people."
So here's how it matters:
Cruz, in pulling the "Full Grassley," and hitting all 99 Iowa counties, and in playing up his Christianity at every stop, is building off of Santorum's and Huckabee's models.
Santorum won Sioux County by 31 points and neighboring Lyon County (47 percent Dutch) by 50 points — his two largest margins of victory, percentagwise. If Cruz can't win these counties with as big of a margin, can he beat Trump? And if Rubio matches or ties Cruz in these counties, will Cruz be fighting to even finish second?
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.