As the primary soon moves from theoretical leads in the polls to actual delegate counts and votes, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is making a last push to come out of the first gate a winner.
His travels through Iowa have included attacks on the other main candidate, at least for the caucuses, and some help from a fellow Texas Republican.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who mounted his own campaign for the GOP nomination before dropping out last fall, endorsed Cruz as they began touring the Hawkeye State together in the final days of the caucus race.
“Of those individuals who have a chance to win the Republican primary, at this juncture, from my perspective, Ted Cruz is by far the most consistent conservative in that crowd,” Perry said Sunday during an interview with Politico. “And that appears to be down to two people.”
Perry is referring to Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman whom the former governor has actively campaigned against in the past weeks. Perry said Trump has been a “cancer on conservatism” and does not like the real estate mogul’s jingoism.
The one-time frontrunner for the 2012 campaign said Cruz would “surround himself with people who do have that experience, and I’m very satisfied that on Day One, he will be ready to be commander-in-chief.”
The endorsement comes at a vital time for Cruz, who has suffered from attacks by Trump and Republicans who do not like his outsider status. Prior to the Christmas and New Year holidays, the senator had a 10-point lead over his rivals. That lead has now diminished, or disappeared altogether in some polls, while Trump picked up the endorsement of another former governor, Alaska’s Sarah Palin.
“Donald has changed how he approached me in that he is now insulting me every day,” Cruz said Monday in Manchester, Iowa. “He can do that. But that is his prerogative. I do not intend to respond in kind.”
Later, during a stop in Independence, Cruz told the crowd that “Mr. Trump has had a lot to say about me lately. Each morning is interesting. I learn a lot about myself from Donald every day.”
While the senator has said he will not go after Cruz with personal attacks, he will not hesitate to point out policy differences. One of the ways he is changing his game is through a new pitch to Iowa voters, pointing out the differences between himself and Trump. He counted off the typical conservative issues Cruz has campaigned on over the past several months, pointing out where Trump has deviated from conservative positions.
“If you have a candidate for 60 years of his life has supported partial-birth abortion, we should not be surprised if as president, that candidate would not defend that right to life,” he said.
Later, Cruz added “Mr. Trump’s position today is that he supports Bernie Sanders-style socialized medicine. He believes federal government should take over all healthcare, that Obamacare didn’t go far enough, and that instead the federal government should be in charge of your relationship.”
Trump has campaigned on repealing Obamacare but has not issued a formal healthcare policy position on his website.
Trump has not let up on his attack on Cruz, pointing out his poor relationship with his colleagues in the Senate and questioning his qualifications for the presidency.
Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio, who is trailing both candidates by a considerable margin but still is in third, picked up the support from the Des Moines Register newspaper. While the endorsement rarely leads to a caucus win, the Republican who has won the backing has gone on to with the GOP nomination in every election since 1996.
The winner of the Iowa caucus will have the early momentum, and possibly a strong cash infusion, going into the first primary in New Hampshire a week later. For Cruz and other Republicans, beating Trump in Iowa could be the only chance to stop his campaign before March’s Super Tuesday elections in several states. For establishment Republicans, Iowa is key to stopping Cruz, whom they see as the less of two evils for his outsider status and the strong potential to drag down the ticket. It has been evidenced by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstadt’s plea to Iowa voters to not caucus for the senator based on the Texan’s position regarding corn-based ethanol. Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas), who ran for president against Bill Clinton in 1996, said he preferred Trump over Cruz based upon the ability to work with the two candidates.