Trump “has a long way to go,” Cruz strategist Jason Johnson told reporters here. “There’s still a majority of Republican primary voters who are opposed to him. That’s a problem for him. I don’t see it changing.”
Cruz’s campaign is now pinning its success on a number of factors, starting with a strong showing in the Utah caucuses Tuesday. But looking farther down the line, Cruz’s team is talking about states that have seldom come up before in discussions, circling June 7 on its calendar as a day when the Texas senator could “win big,” for example.
Cruz’s team acknowledges the difficulty of winning 1,237 delegates — the number needed to clinch the nomination — before Cleveland, but it insists both that it can be done and that Cruz is the only candidate beside Trump who can do it. On Tuesday, the campaign’s internal projections indicated Cruz would still net as many as 1,262 delegates and Trump as little as 827.
Cruz officials are nonetheless readying for a contested convention, which they believe they can enter with a delegate lead over Trump, even if they do not reach the 1,237 threshold.
“If we’re not able to get those numbers, then we’re prepared for a convention,” Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe told reporters here Tuesday night. “I think that’s less than a 50 percent chance, but there is a chance that we end up there.”
Cruz and his team have made a point of distinguishing between a contested convention, which they are open to, and a brokered convention, which they are not. In their telling, a brokered convention would consist of Republican power brokers parachuting in their choice into Cleveland, potentially forcing upon the Republican primary electorate a candidate who has not won a single vote.
“I think if they tried that, it would be an absolute catastrophe,” Cruz told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday. “The people would revolt and quite rightly.”
As part of its preparations for a contested convention, Cruz’s campaign is circling back to the states it has already won and ensuring that delegates follow through on their promise to support the Texas senator at the convention. On Tuesday alone, Cruz’s campaign was monitoring three meetings at state or local levels across the country where delegates were being selected.
Cruz will receive his first major opportunity to test his viability in a narrowed field Tuesday, when Arizona and Utah hold their nominating contests. Fifty-eight delegates are up for grabs in the Arizona primary and 40 in the Utah caucuses.
Cruz campaign officials are less than bullish about their chances in winner-take-all Arizona, noting that more than half the electorate has already cast a ballot. They believe they can still get to 1,237 delegates before the convention without capturing victory in Arizona.
The campaign is nonetheless making a play in Arizona, where it went on the air Thursday. Cruz is expected to travel there later this week.
Utah is a different story. Cruz has the support there of U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, and the state’s closed caucus system plays to the Texas senator’s strengths. His campaign expects to win a majority of the vote in Utah, the threshold at which it can sweep all 40 delegates.
Cruz is expected to spend the beginning of next week in Utah, where the 13th Republican debate is being held Monday in Salt Lake City, the eve of the caucuses. Trump has suggested he could skip the debate; Cruz plans to be there.
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