Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has been stuck in the middle of a very large Republican field of candidates, aside from fundraising where he has been at or near the top. Politico offers an in-depth look at the Cruz campaign, including interviews with the candidate and his team, and lays out the most likely path to the nomination for the Texas senator:
Certainly, Cruz is riding high. Cash reports this month showed the contender sitting on the most money of any Republican candidate in the field. Two of his most direct rivals — for funds (fellow Texan Rick Perry) and for votes (Scott Walker) — have already dropped out. Jeb Bush is slashing payroll. And a Des Moines Register poll out Friday showed Cruz in third place in Iowa, behind Donald Trump and Ben Carson, neither of whom has ever won an election to anything.
From the start, Cruz and his political brain trust have divided the 2016 primary into four clear lanes: a moderate-establishment lane, in which he would not compete; a tea party lane, which he needed to dominate; an evangelical lane, where he had strong potential but little initial traction; and a libertarian lane, which began as the turf of Rand Paul.
Cruz’s Houston headquarters is brimming with confidence, and no date looms larger on its collective calendar than March 1. He was the first to recruit chairmen in all 171 counties in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada but his entire strategy seems centered on the SEC primary, when a set of conservative and evangelical states across the South will dominate the voting, including Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma and his home state of Texas….
By then, if not before, Cruz hopes to have consolidated the conservative side of the 2016 ledger. Within three weeks, by March 22, almost two-thirds of the Republican delegates will have been allocated.
As the headline of the article notes, however, Cruz must first climb over a couple of candidates who potentially are competing for the same voters, primarily businessman Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson:
Still, Trump and Carson stand in his way. Trump, to a large extent, has scrambled the neat lanes Cruz has delineated, drawing from angry voters everywhere. Meanwhile, Carson is pulling a large share of the evangelical vote, even Cruz’s top advisers admit.
But to the Cruz campaign’s delight, Trump and Carson have begun aiming at each other, with Trump questioning Carson’s religion and energy level over the weekend, and Carson retorting that he’d worked through 20-hour surgeries: “Doesn’t require a lot of jumping up and down and screaming, but it does require a lot of concentration.”
Cruz has drafted behind Trump for months, hoping to sweep up his supporters when what many have seen as an inevitable fall comes. But increasingly the Cruz campaign is preparing for Trump to remain a force through the primaries.
Carson, on the other hand, the Cruz campaign thinks will fade as scrutiny intensifies. Plus, Cruz intends to box out the retired neurosurgeon by winning over the movement conservatives who are desperate to unite behind a single candidate early in 2016, after back-to-back cycles nominating a more moderate Republican, who, they believe, failed to get out the Christian vote.
One key to Cruz’s potential success involves his good fortune in the two candidates who have already dropped out of the GOP field:
Perhaps the most significant variable for Cruz is the dropouts this field has already seen. For the first eight months of the year, it appeared Cruz and Walker were on a collision course for hard-line conservative voters, especially in Iowa. No longer. And the departure of Perry cleared the way for a flood of Texas money.
On Monday, Cruz announced that some of Perry’s top financiers are now backing him, including Darwin Deason, who gave $5 million to a pro-Perry super PAC, and other Texas rainmakers, including Jim Lee and Brint Ryan.
Significantly, while both Walker and Perry ran out of campaign cash, they had the two richest super PACs that could have been used to go after Cruz. Now many of his remaining rivals for the evangelical vote, save for Carson, are woefully underfunded.
The article makes a compelling case for Cruz being, at the very least, a serious contender for the 2016 Republican nomination. At least one early skeptic of Cruz’s viability, Harry Enten of the numbers-crunching site FiveThirtyEight.com, is now reconsidering:
I still have many doubts about Ted Cruz’s ability to win the Republican nomination. He has a lot of precedent working against him; as I wrote seven months ago, “Let’s Be Serious About Ted Cruz From The Start: He’s Too Extreme And Too Disliked To Win.” And Cruz has, if anything, become even more hated by his colleagues in Washington, which hurts him tremendously in the all important endorsement primary. He continues to make controversial statements on a range of issues that hurt his viability in a general election.
But I think it’s time to at least walk the headline back a bit…
Long term, if voters don’t like you, it doesn’t matter how good your organization is or how much establishment support you have. And Cruz is among the best-liked Republican candidates. In an average of the last three live-interview polls in which Republican voters were asked whether they had a favorable or unfavorable impression of at least half the candidates, Cruz ranks fourth in net favorability (favorable minus unfavorable) at +33 percentage points….
The Republican establishment has (so far) not rallied around a candidate, and that may leave a little more room for the grassroots to influence the nominating process. That would benefit Cruz. According to a survey from Huffington Post and YouGov of Republican activists, Cruz is currently in second place to Trump. And Cruz’s net favorability rating among activists (+53 percentage points) is far ahead of Trump’s (+19). Grassroots support is incredibly important in caucus states like Iowa.
Cruz is bolstered, in large part, because he is the top choice of born-again Christians and tea party Republicans….
Cruz sounds like an elder statesman compared with Carson and Trump. The longer Carson and Trump are ahead, the more likely it will be that the party actors will be scared into making a compromise with the base. Someone like Cruz who has actually held elected office and is liked by the grassroots could be that candidate.
Enten remains skeptical about Cruz, but it’s clear that his skepticism is reduced compared with several months ago. Between solid polling, successful fundraising, and an ability to appeal to several different constituencies within the Republican Party, Cruz is almost certain to be a major factor in the 2016 nomination battle, and perhaps even the nominee.