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GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz spoke in West Des Moines the night before the Iowa caucuses | Senior Photographer Amanda Suarez

Credit: Amanda Suarez

DES MOINES, IOWA — In order to comprehend the effect of Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) message and to grasp the extent of the conservative religious coalition he’s built for himself in Iowa, you have to understand principles. And to understand principles, it may help to introduce you to Lynda Farley.

“Let’s liberate the People’s Republic of the United States,” she said, “and we’ll start with the People’s Republic of Iowa.”

Lynda Farley is a chain-smoking woman in her 60s who once drove 800 miles from Edmonton, Ky. to New Jersey to fight a $56 traffic ticket. She drives a contraption of painted symbols, flowers, lights, memorabilia and knick-knacks that’s almost insulting to call a car. She is an expatriate from Chicago who boycotted the city because of its anti-smoking law. And, to quote a banner hanging over her car’s rear bumper, Lynda Farley is “Cruz’n for the Constitution.”

Photo by Amanda Suarez 

On the Iowa State fairgrounds, Cruz convened his array of in-state supporters (Iowa Rep. Steve King prominent among them) for a blow-out rally on the eve of the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

“Is this a tantrum or an election?” Cruz asked in an apparent reference to 1968 Wharton graduate and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump. A loss in Iowa would severely blunt Cruz’s momentum going into next week’s New Hampshire primary, where Trump has held a commanding lead for months.

The campaign’s messaging on Sunday night focused prominently on encouraging the Cruz faithful to proselytize among their family and friends to reject alternative candidates like Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and caucus for Cruz.

Photo by Amanda Suarez

“Vote for me 10 times,” Cruz said, a succinct way of urging his followers to persuade their friends and family to caucus for him.

Many of the attendees — Farley included — were up to the challenge.

Erma McCoy, who lives in Des Moines and came to the rally with various members of her immediate and extended family, plans to caucus for Cruz on Monday night.“

We support Ted Cruz because of his Biblical beliefs,” she said. McCoy does not have a second choice candidate after Cruz.

McCoy, like Farley, had never been to a Cruz rally before. His events combine elements of apocalyptic grandstanding (“We’re at the edge of the cliff,” he said at one point) with red, white and blue sloshed country music and religious invocations.

Photo by Amanda Suarez

For Cruz, every aspect of his campaign — the message and campaign organization especially — has focused on one word: principle.

Principles are what guide Cruz to advocate eliminating the Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Services, ending Common Core standards, stopping any amnesty immigration policy and “repeal[ing] every word of Obamacare.”

This firmness even in the face of political opposition (no one would call Cruz popular in Washington) attracted Matt Howieson, a 26-year-old from north of Des Moines.

“I believe that he’ll do what he says,” Howieson said of Cruz. “I really appreciate his pro-life stance.”

Farley, another strong believer in principles, handed out a double-sided pamphlet with information about the “junk science” that linked smoking to causing cancer and blasted the federal government for treating individuals as “property of the state.”

Photo by Amanda Suarez

Where Cruz is rock, Trump is slime for these voters.

“I think he’s arrogant, he’s a flip-flopper. He doesn’t represent my values in the least,” Howieson said.

Occasionally, this commitment to principles extends to rules regulating the press. Upon returning to the Cruz rally after it had begun, two Daily Pennsylvanian staffers were told that the media section was filled to capacity (as their co-workers inside could attest: it was not) and that they had to be turned away. A Washington Post staffer, who did not give his name, had briefly exited around this same time and was also told that he could not reenter. Despite repeated protests, he was not allowed back in.

Iowans begin to caucus Monday night at 7 p.m. local time when their individual precincts host communal meetings where voters group together to voice communal support for a candidate, in contrast to the primary system of private ballots. According to a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll released on Saturday, Cruz trails Trump by five percentage points in Iowa.

Staff reporter Nicole Rubin contributed reporting. 

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