While Marco Rubio was flailing in Florida, Ted Cruz’s team was lying in wait, preparing to move state by state, donor by donor to capture Rubio’s supporters after his fall. And with Rubio out, that effort is now in full swing.
Even before Rubio formally exited the race, Cruz’s team was communicating with donors and other prominent Rubio supporters — Cruz senior foreign policy adviser Victoria Coates, for example, was checking in with people like prominent Bush administration figure and Rubio backer Elliott Abrams.
When Rubio did drop, the Texan’s team sprang into action across the country.
In Utah, his leadership team moved to lock down the Florida senator’s lengthy list of legislative endorsements before next Tuesday’s caucus. Cruz is planning to meet with Gov. Gary Herbert Saturday at a campaign kickoff event for Utah Sen. Mike Lee, another Cruz ally. In Washington, several of Rubio’s national security advisers signed on with Cruz — after, in part, courting from Coates. And nationally, Cruz’s money team is making the case to Rubio’s former donors that Cruz’s time has come.
Their message: The party is running out of time to stop Donald Trump — and Cruz is the only one who can do it.
“We need to unite,” said Chris Herrod, a former Utah state legislator who is Cruz’s campaign coordinator in the state, characterizing his message to former Rubio backers. “The only person that can beat Donald Trump right now is Sen. Cruz.”
The broad-based, national effort comes as Cruz seeks to consolidate the anti-Trump wing of the GOP behind his campaign. He lags well behind Trump in delegates, but his team is hopeful that with a united party behind him, he’ll turn that deficit into a lead by the time the he heads to the Republican National Convention in July. They insist he could do even better: assemble enough delegates to score an outright win — though that’s a path that has narrowed dramatically and remains a long-shot for Cruz.
A win in Utah on Tuesday, however, would be a significant first step toward catching up in the delegate count, and Cruz enjoyed a boost toward that goal Friday when former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney—whom Cruz has frequently criticized– said he would vote for Cruz in Utah over Trump and over Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Rubio had the monopoly on Utah legislative endorsements, but now that he’s out, Herrod and others on Cruz’s team in the state are working the phones and tapping their political relationships, seeking to bring over ex-Rubio supporters to Cruz. It’s an approach the campaign is expected to replicate in other states that vote down the line, including in Arizona, which also votes next week.
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