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Eye On Candidates
December 14, 2015

Cruz on Track for GOP Nomination?

The recently released Iowa Poll from by Bloomberg Politics and The Des Moines Register showing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz moving into a commanding lead in the Hawkeye State has prompted a slew of stories suggesting he is well positioned to win the Republican nomination. Here are some key points from Chris Cillizza’s report this morning in The Washington Post:

It’s Cruz, not Trump, who looks more like favorite to win GOP nomination

Cruz (R-Tex.), as of today, has the most direct route to the Republican presidential nomination — assuming that the past history of GOP nomination fights works as a broad predictor of where the 2016 race is headed.

Let me elaborate.

  1. Cruz is positioned as the most conservative candidate in the race…. [T]onally, Cruz comes across as aggressively and unapologetically conservative — a less controversial and more electable version of real estate magnate Trump.

In a Republican primary — particularly one in which the GOP electorate is mad at everyone (including those in their own party) for an alleged lack of commitment to conservative principles — being the guy all the way on the ideological right is a very, very good thing.

  1. Cruz has raised the second-most money in the Republican race….

Cruz’s money is also what separates him from other candidates who secured the mantle of “most conservative candidate in the primary.” Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses during past campaigns — more on Cruz and Iowa below — but they were unable to capitalize on that win or sustain their support because they had so little money….

  1. Cruz is the Iowa front-runner. Recent history makes clear that you need to win one of the first three states — Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina — to have a realistic chance of being the party’s nominee….

Cruz is emerging rapidly as the favorite in Iowa’s caucuses….

  1. The calendar beyond the Big 3 favors Cruz. Winning one of the first three states is almost certainly the way a candidate makes it to March. But assuming Cruz can win Iowa (at least), the calendar starts to look very favorable to him beyond February. On March 1, what’s being referred to as the “SEC primary” takes place; Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas will vote on that first Tuesday in March.

Cillizza notes that Cruz has not put much effort into appealing to non-conservatives and that a more-likeable Florida Sen. Marco Rubio might get the better of him in a one-on-one contest. But still, he concludes, Cruz is “perfectly positioned” to be the last candidate standing in the crowded GOP field.

And Cruz’s support in Iowa is poised to expand, according to a Bloomberg Politics analysis of the poll:

Ted Cruz shot to a 10-point lead over Donald Trump in the latest Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, putting him in prime position to win the first-in-the-nation Republican caucus on Feb. 1. But the Texas Senator may be even stronger than the top-line numbers suggest. A deeper look into the poll’s crosstabs suggests that Cruz is poised to draw away even more of Trump’s supporters—and that Trump may have difficulty luring those who currently favor Cruz.

Until now, Trump’s great source of strength has been his support from voters without a college degree. One reason Trump has been able to maintain an overall lead in most national polls since last summer is that, as Ron Brownstein has pointed out, blue-collar workers have coalesced around him, while white-collar workers with at least a college degree have split their support among several candidates. However, the new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll shows that Cruz, for the first time, is winning both non-college voters (Cruz 32, Trump 23, Ben Carson 13) and college voters (Cruz 29, Trump 18, Carson 12) alike.

Of course, voter preference is fluid and the Iowa caucuses are still six weeks away. But Cruz’s strategy of embracing, rather than attacking, Trump—even after Trump makes controversial or offensive statements—appears to have served him well, at least so far. In the new poll, respondents who say they support Trump have an extremely positive view of Cruz: 73 percent view him favorably, while 18 percent view him unfavorably. Asked to state their second-choice preference, these Trump supporters overwhelmingly pick Cruz (49 percent), with Rubio (16 percent) a distant second. If Trump falters or alienates his current supporters, they appear quite open to supporting Cruz.

Also worth noting is that the chairman of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign, John Podesta, is reported by Politico to have concluded Cruz is the most likely GOP nominee:

Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta handicapped the GOP race for 90 Democratic donors assembled at a private fundraising event in Berkeley, California, on Thursday night, according to a Clinton backer who was in the room, telling the crowd that he viewed Cruz as the likeliest nominee, followed by Trump, and then Marco Rubio.

Tomorrow’s Republican debate in Las Vegas could shuffle the field once again, as some candidates outperform or do worse than expected. But Cruz’s considerable debating skills make it unlikely he will lose much following the event, and he may even gain – which would put him on course to begin the New Year as the best-positioned of all the GOP candidates to win the nomination.