At least four presidential candidates are coming to North Texas next month to participate in a forum at one of the state's largest megachurches.
The North Texas Presidential Forum is scheduled for Oct. 18 at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano. The event is being hosted by the nearly 40,000-member church and the Faith & Freedom Coalition, an influential group representing religious conservatives across the country.
All of the major Democratic and Republican candidates have been invited to address the forum. On Monday, confirmed speakers included four GOP candidates: retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
Tim Head, executive director of the coalition, said Monday that he expects the forum would end up featuring about 10 candidates. The event is already sold out, with more than 7,000 people registered to attend.
The forum is set to be the largest gathering of White House hopefuls in Texas so far this election cycle. The state's earlier-than-usual primary is giving it more influence in the nominating process. Houston has already been selected as the host of a Republican debate on Feb. 26, four days before the primary.
"Between the mix of a huge church that wants to participate in the process [and] being in Texas, we specifically picked a time that was before the rush for Iowa, so I think you can kill a lot of birds with one stone if you perform well on October the 18th," Head said, calling the forum the "largest and one of the last opportunities" for candidates to make an in-person case to Texans before the Houston debate.
According to organizers, speakers at the forum will get 10 minutes to address the audience then another 10 minutes to answer questions from pastor Jack Graham. Announcing the forum, Graham suggested it will be an opportunity for candidates to elaborate on their views on religious liberty, a hot topic in the GOP race for the White House.
"As Christians, it is critical that we take seriously our rights as citizens of this great country by educating ourselves on all candidates in any election and to participate fully in the election process by voting our values," Graham said. "We cannot afford to stand on the sidelines as our Christian values are continually trampled."