MUSCATINE, Iowa (AP) — On the second-to-last Sunday before the Iowa caucuses, Donald Trump was sitting in a fifth row pew and reached for his wallet.
Religious voters are a big factor in the opening contest on the presidential nominating calendar, and Trump is working to build his appeal among them, especially considering his chief challenger in the Republican race is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a conservative preacher’s son who’s made deep inroads with evangelicals.
Several reporters were invited to observe Trump’s visit to the First Presbyterian Church in Muscatine for an hourlong service that included hymns, readings and a performance by the church’s children’s choir. The cream-colored stained glass window tiles cast a golden glow.
At one point, Trump shared a prayer book with a woman seated to his right. She put her hand gently around Trump’s waist as the congregation sang Hymn 409, “God is Here!” The words were displayed on a projector at the front of the church.
During the passing of the peace, when church-goers give each other wishes, Trump received warm greetings from those around him.
When it was time to offer tithes, Trump was seen digging into his wallet. Two folded $50 bills were later spotted in a collection plate that was passed down his pew.
As a candidate, the thrice-married New Yorker has worked to foster relationships with Christian leaders. He received a glowing introduction last week from Jerry Falwell Jr., president of one of the country’s most prominent evangelical Christian universities, and on Saturday was joined on the campaign trail by the Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas, a megachurch.
At times, Trump has appeared to struggle to affirm his Christian credentials. He often feels compelled to remind Christian audiences that he was raised as a Presbyterian. He has brought to and waved a copy of his childhood Bible and a photo of his confirmation at some events as evidence of his upbringing.
He has made what have been seen as several minor missteps on religion during the campaign, mistakenly pronouncing Second Corinthians as “two Corinthians” during a speech last week at Liberty University in Virginia, Falwell’s school, and saying in an interview that he had never sought forgiveness from God.
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