NASHUA, N.H. — Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has a list of 10 different “truths” that form the backbone of his campaign stump speech. The first one: “God is real.”
Now, some voters are asking to hear more about that.
Ramaswamy is only the second prominent Hindu to run for president, after then-Rep. Tulsi Gabbard sought the Democratic nomination in 2020. As Ramaswamy, a first-time candidate, earns notice from a slice of Republican voters in early-voting states, they are quizzing him about the role his faith is going to play in his campaign — and what it means that his religion is different from that of the evangelical Christians who play an outsize role deciding Republican primaries.
A core part of Ramaswamy’s message is talking about God and religion. At a town hall in Nashua on Tuesday night, a voter asked him, “How does your belief in your God inform policies that were originally informed by the belief in, fear of and obedience to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?”
Ramaswamy responded, “Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian values, there’s no doubt about it. It is a historical fact.”
Ramaswamy told the audience that while he is not a Christian, he can lead the country because “we share the same values, the same Judeo-Christian values in power.” He added: “I’m not running to be a pastor-in-chief. I’m running to be our commander-in-chief.”
The base of the Republican Party is heavily Christian and heavily evangelical: Among self-identified Republicans nationally, 56% describe themselves as evangelical Christians, according to the most recent NBC News poll.
It is an especially key voting bloc in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa, where past GOP candidates like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz carried evangelicals by double digits on their way to victory — even though other candidates bested them among the non-evangelical minority of Iowa Republican caucusgoers, according to NBC News exit polls.
Ramaswamy is averaging about 5% support in national polls of the Republican primary campaign, according to the FiveThirtyEight average. He is introducing himself to voters with a heavy travel schedule, but he is also running advertising already, having spent about $1.5 million so far, according to AdImpact.
Faith is a theme Ramaswamy often brings up at campaign stops. He believes the country is in middle of a “national identity crisis,” he frequently says, lamenting that faith, patriotism, hard work and family “have disappeared, only to be replaced by new secular religions in this country” — “woke-ism” and “Covid-ism,” among others.
In New Hampshire on Tuesday, Ramaswamy told voters they have a choice to make when they go vote.
“Do you want somebody who lives by those values and shares those values and will govern according to those values even if I don’t check the box of being a Christian in name? Or do you want somebody who’s a Christian in name but may not, in any sense, live according to those values?” he asked.
Earlier in the day, Ramaswamy made another pitch for evangelical Christian backing when he went to the Iowa State Capitol to show his support for the six-week abortion ban Republican legislators passed in a special session. NBC News asked Ramaswamy whether he sees his Hindu faith as a potential hindrance while campaigning in a deeply Christian state.
“I’m a person of faith. Evangelical Christians across the state are also people of faith,” he said. “We found commonality in our need to defend religious liberty, to stand for faith and patriotism and stand unapologetically for the fact that we are one nation under God.”
David Henry, a radio host who attended a Ramaswamy campaign event in Ottumwa, Iowa, on Monday, is still deciding whom to caucus for. The fact that Ramaswamy is religious is important to him, but Henry said he does not care as much about which religion Ramaswamy practices.
“Personal faith is personal faith,” Henry said. “The fact that you can have faith in something more powerful than you speaks volumes.”