Bud Kennedy

Baptist free-for-all: Cruz over Huckabee

Ted Cruz at the North Texas Presidential Forum.
Ted Cruz at the North Texas Presidential Forum. Star-Telegram

The Southern Baptist primary is over, and the preacher’s kid won.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, son of a Baptist evangelist and capable of bringing his own fire and brimstone in the Republican campaign, collected both a thunderous ovation and a subtle blessing Sunday at the North Texas Presidential Forum at Prestonwood Baptist Church.

Eight years ago, Prestonwood Pastor Jack Graham told worshipers how “God is lifting up” presidential candidates and “his favor is upon Mike Huckabee” — the former Arkansas governor and pastor, a Graham friend from the 1970s and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

Back then, Graham called Huckabee’s message “God’s word from God’s man.”

This time around, Huckabee has plenty of words. Just no campaign money.

He chatted breezily with Graham Sunday, and drew cheers when he brought up the Islamic State: “You have to defeat them or they will kill us.”

By then, though, Graham had welcomed Cruz with a familiar line: “The Lord seems to be elevating you and giving you favor.”

Six candidates spoke separately at the forum, open to both Republicans and Democrats. The crowd of 6,000-plus warmed to them all at times, particularly neurosurgeon and evangelical author Ben Carson.

But Cruz seemed most at home. Unlike Carly Fiorina or Jeb Bush, for example, he started out preaching, not explaining his “faith journey.”

Cruz’s father, Rafael, is a Denton County-based evangelist and translator. The younger Cruz turned up the heat right away, declaring an “awakening — we are seeing a spirit of revival across this nation.”

When Cruz said, “Our consitutional rights are under assault,” voices shouted back, “Yeah!” and “Amen!”

Cheers rose again when he said, “2016 is going to be a religious liberty election,” and brought up the 1980 pivot-turn election of President Reagan: “I believe 2016 will be an election like 1980.”

“My goodness,” Graham said afterward. “You know how to fire people up.”

Later, Huckabee said he and Graham have not talked about an endorsement.

Asked about other Baptist voters, Huckabee cracked a familiar joke quoting the book of Matthew:

“Baptists are hard to win over whether some other Baptist is in the race or not,” he said.

 ‘For where two or three are gathered together’ — there’s at least seven different opinions between the two.”

Graham, the moderator, interviewer and star, saved one last zinger for the absent and little-missed Donald Trump, who has inexplicably spent recent days calling Jeb Bush “pathetic” because when brother George W. Bush was president, “the World Trade Center came down,” and claiming a President Trump would keep terrorists out.

After Jeb Bush spoke lovingly about his family and faith, Graham said: “President Bush did keep us safe, no matter what anyone says. And people should be held accountable for ridiculous statements.”

Not a prayer of that.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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