A prayer rally for Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis turned into an awkward political dance for Senator Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. The two rivals in the GOP presidential field descended on Kentucky Tuesday, both showing their support for Davis and attempting to bolster their similar campaign messages that religious freedom is under attack.
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Davis’ exit from jail turned the rally’s purpose from calling for her release to celebrating her freedom. Davis has been in jail since last week, when a judge held her in contempt of court for refusing to comply with a Supreme Court decision and issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. She has said it goes against her religious beliefs to do so.
At the rally organized in part by Huckabee, a tearful Davis thanked those who support her.
“I love you all so very much. I just want to give God the glory. His people have rallied and you are a strong people,” Davis said. “Just keep on pressing. Don't let down because he is here.”
When her attorney Mat Staver was asked if she would continue to resist issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, he said that Davis “will not violate her conscience."
Huckabee vowed to go to jail in Davis’ place if she faces further time in custody.
“Let Kim go. But if you have to put someone in jail, I volunteer to go. Let me go. Lock me up if you think that's how freedom is best served,” Davis said.
He also had a message for those who see Davis and her supporters as discriminatory against gays.
“I know there are some people who will say this is a rally of hate. They would be wrong. I know this. And I think I speak for you, we don't gather here today because we hate anybody. We gather here today because we love God and we love this great country,” Huckabee said.
While Huckabee spoke from the main stage, situated steps outside the Carter County Detention Center, Cruz stood amid the crowd and spoke to reporters. Where other prominent politicians and speakers in attendance took the the stage, Cruz did not.
An aide to Cruz said the senator’s trip, while announced after Huckabee’s, was not a political move to outmaneuver the former Arkansas governor. The aide said the decision to go Tuesday simply worked best with Cruz’s schedule.
“Cruz expressed interest in visiting Davis the moment he found out about her arrest,” the Cruz aide said.
The New York Times reported that Cruz was blocked from the media by a Huckabee staffer when Davis initially left the jail flanked by the former Arkansas governor and her attorney.
A spokesman for the Cruz campaign would not comment on those reports but confirmed that the Texas senator met with Kim Davis.
“It was indicated to me that she was grateful that the Senator was there and very appreciative,” said Rick Tyler, spokesman for the Cruz campaign.
Cruz called Davis a hero.
“Kim Davis stood up for her faith, and she told the truth. That is a powerful, powerful thing. There is a reason why you see so many people here gathered on the steps of the jail. There is a reason why Kim Davis has inspired people across the country,” he said.
“Listen, it is my hope that every candidate for president and every candidate for public office rallies around Kim Davis and religious freedom. You know, religious liberty should be an issue that brings us together and cuts across race lines and ethnic lines, class lines, party lines,” he said. “But sadly we see some real clarity. Hillary Clinton very publicly stated she thought Kim Davis should go to jail.”
Cruz’s trip to Kentucky follows a summer of activities in which he has highlighted to potential voters how he believes religious freedom is under assault. He held a rally last month featuring appearances by other religious freedom advocates, including an Iowa couple who refused to host a gay wedding at a venue they owned.