For weeks, Cruz has talked about South Carolina as the site of a rubber match between himself and Trump, assuming they would each notch a win in the first two early voting states. With that scenario now a reality, Cruz’s campaign appears poised for its fiercest confrontations yet with the billionaire in South Carolina, a state already associated with bare-knuckle politics.
Still basking in the glory of its victory in the Iowa caucuses, Cruz’s campaign sees South Carolina as somewhat of a return to familiar terrain, with its heavy concentrations of evangelical voters and organizational rigors. Cruz already claims more than 8,000 volunteers in South Carolina, some of them based in a dorm-like residence similar to what was known as “Camp Cruz” in Iowa.
“It’s a state where, a lot of times, as you’ve seen in the past, winners out of Iowa have done well,” Cruz adviser Jason Miller told reporters Saturday at the eighth Republican debate. “Eight thousand volunteers — that’s a lot. As we’ve seen before with the Cruz for President campaign, organization matters.”
Key to Cruz’s success in South Carolina could be another dominant showing among evangelical voters. Shortly after his campaign got underway 10 months ago, it set out to recruit a supportive pastor in all 46 counties in South Carolina, similar to what it did in Iowa.
Mike Gonzalez, the pastor in charge of Cruz’s evangelical outreach in South Carolina, said he expects the “lion’s share” of evangelical support in the state to go to Cruz. The senator already has more than 300 pastors backing him across the state, with more than one pastor behind Cruz in many counties, Gonzalez added.
Veterans’ issues are also expected to factor into Cruz’s campaign in South Carolina, which is home to a number of military installations — one of which Cruz is already referencing in a narrowly tailored TV ad. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an Air Force veteran who made the military central to his aborted 2016 campaign, has already said he will stump for Cruz here.
The Cruz campaign was already shifting its attention to South Carolina as Granite Staters went to the polls Tuesday, sending Cruz’s wife, Heidi, to an election-night party in Charleston. On Monday, she and Cruz’s father, Rafael, attended phone banks and met with pastors across the Palmetto State.
After the South Carolina primary — and the Nevada caucuses three days later — Cruz will turn the bulk of his attention to the group of mostly southern states, including Texas, that is set to vote March 1. In a media appearance earlier this month, Cruz estimated his organization in those states is three to five times stronger than that of anyone else in the GOP field.
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