Potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is seeking to increase his appeal among evangelical Christians, a significant voting bloc, in an appearance at a Christian university.
Bush delivered the commencement address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia on Saturday. The school was founded by evangelical leader Jerry Falwell and it is where conservative Republican Senator Ted Cruz announced his 2016 presidential campaign in March.
Bush’s appearance at Liberty allows him to demonstrate to evangelicals his deeply held Catholic faith. The former Florida governor is held in suspicion by some conservatives, evangelicals included, for moderate positions on immigration reform and Common Core national education standards.
Bush, who is expected to run for the Republican presidential nomination but who has not yet announced his campaign, stressed his support for religious freedom in a speech at the school’s football stadium.
The competition for the Christian right is active. Cruz, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former Texas Governor Rick Perry are all competing for evangelical support, which is critical in two states, Iowa and South Carolina, that feature early in nominating contests next year ahead of the November election.
Bush is considered a strong possibility for the Republican nomination. However a poll of Republican voters this week in Iowa, which holds the first nominating contest, showed he has some work to do among conservatives in that state. The poll, conducted by Quinnipiac University, said that Bush was in seventh place with 5 percent support among likely caucus-goers.