Those Republicans and Democrats running hard for president won’t be the only ones headlining rallies next year in Iowa, New Hampshire and scores of other states.
Franklin Graham plans to be out on the trail, too, urging Christians to pray. And to vote.
In January, the North Carolina evangelist will embark on what he’s dubbed the “Decision America Tour” – election-year prayer rallies in the capital cities of all 50 states. Covering four or more states a month, he should be on the road until at least Election Day.
Graham, who heads the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, explained it this way in a news release: “I do not believe Republicans or Democrats or any other party can turn this nation around – only God can. God hears the prayers of his people, so we’ll be calling on Christians in every state to pray fervently and faithfully for America.”
He’ll also call on them to vote – or, in the words of the news release, “to live and promote biblical principles at home, in public and at the ballot box.”
The slogan of the tour: “Pray. Vote. Engage.”
Graham will kick off his 2016 campaign in Iowa, just like those White House wannabes vying in that state’s caucuses. Graham will be in Des Moines on Jan. 5, less than a month before the vote there. On Jan. 19, he’ll speak in Concord in New Hampshire – the state with the first presidential primary, on Feb. 9.
In between, Graham has scheduled rallies in Tallahassee, Fla. (Jan. 12), and Baton Rouge, La. (Jan. 13).
No word yet on when he’ll be in Columbia and Raleigh, even though primaries in both Carolinas will come early on the 2016 primary calendar.
The BGEA insisted in its news release that no candidates or public officials will speak at the rallies, and that Graham will not endorse any candidates or legislation.
But in recent years, Graham has made headlines for his sharp criticism of Democrats, particularly President Barack Obama. And he has a record of being far friendlier to Republicans. A few examples: He arranged for Sarah Palin to meet and pose for photos with his famous father, Billy Graham, in 2009. The BGEA ran print ads in 2012 featuring a picture of the elder Graham that called on Christians to vote for candidates whose “biblical” stands on the issues mirrored those of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. And Franklin told ABC News four years ago that Donald Trump was making a lot of sense, including when he questioned whether Obama was born in the United States.
Given all that history – not to mention the fact that his father got burned for being too close to GOP President Richard Nixon – what would Franklin say to those who wonder whether his prayer rallies are really designed to swell turnout of evangelical Christian voters for the GOP?
On the phone this week, he gave me an answer.
“I’m not going to support any party,” he said. “Here in North Carolina, we have some good Democratic candidates and some of them I’ve voted for. This 50-state tour is not for the Republican Party. I can promise you that. I’m as disappointed in them as I am the Democrats.”