WAVERLY, Iowa (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio promised to keep "talking about God" as he campaigned across Iowa Monday, reminding influential evangelical voters of his commitment to Christian values just two weeks before the state's leadoff caucuses.
The Florida senator's GOP rivals have dismissed him as too moderate at times, but on Monday, he spoke of how Christian conservative values would guide his decisions in the White House, if he is elected. The Florida senator, a Catholic, opened up about religion when confronted by an atheist during a town hall-style meeting in Waverly, Iowa.
"No one's going to force you to believe in God. But no one's going to force me to stop talking about God," Rubio told the atheist, Justin Scott, of Waterloo.
Added Rubio, "Not only am I a Christian, not only am I influenced by my faith, but it is the single greatest influence in my life. And from that I'll never hide."
Looking up at businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the polls, the first-term senator is trying to break out of the crowded Republican field. There are several candidates aggressively courting Iowa's religious conservatives, who typically play outsized influence in the opening contest. Cruz is particularly popular among such voters, as is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Gov. Rick Santorum.
Rubio's focus on religion would be less appealing in New Hampshire, which holds the nation's first presidential primary eight days after the Iowa caucuses and typically rewards economic, rather than social conservatives.
In Waverly, the second of five campaign appearances Rubio had scheduled Monday, he renewed his opposition to abortion and promised to strip funding from Planned Parenthood if elected. He also said pastors, bakers and florists shouldn't be penalized for refusing to participate in a same-sex marriage. On abortion, Rubio supports an exception for the life of the mother, but opposes exceptions in cases of rape and incest.
"I believe every human being, no matter what stage you are in your development, even if you don't have a birth certificate, even if you don't have a lawyer, even if you don't have a name, has a right to live," Rubio said, adding that he respects people on the other side of the debate.
The message is in line with a new TV ad that began running in Iowa this week in which Rubio calls abortion "a human rights issue" and he promises to "look for ways to limit the number of abortions in this country."
In Waverly, Rubio told the atheist that his Christian faith shouldn't be a concern.
"In fact, I think you should hope my faith influences me," Rubio said, noting that his faith outlines an obligation to care for the less fortunate, to love his neighbor and feed the hungry.
"I'm going to share my faith, especially when I'm asked, because my faith influences who I am in every aspect of my life," he said.
Rubio added that he'll live to 85 or 90, if he's lucky. "But I'm more interested in eternity and the ability to live forever with my creator," he said. "And that's what I aspire to more than anything else."