Ted Cruz-es through the South in bid to intimidate rivals

December 22, 2015
Texas Senator Ted Cruz speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Maryland  February 26, 2015.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR4RBW7

Texas Senator Ted Cruz speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Maryland February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

TRUSSVILLE, Alabama – Presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s campaign is using his ascendance in the polls to convince elite skeptics that he can win the Republican nomination next year.

He’s celebrating his 45th birthday on the campaign trail today, with two stops in Tennessee and another in Arkansas, winding up a 12-city, six-day fly-around on Wednesday. At his first stop of the day, in Knoxville, he told reporters the race would come down to him and Donald Trump.

The tour has focused mostly in southern states in order to shore up support there ahead of primary contests in March, giving him time to focus on Iowa voters in the run-up to the Feb. 1 caucuses. Each stop features a press conference and a rally before upwards of 1,000 attendees.

And at each stop the campaign plays a slickly produced, gauzy video filled with footage of smiling Ted and wife Heidi Cruz to show how far they have come since announcing his candidacy in March. It cites reports in major mainstream news organizations like NBC News and the New York Times saying early in 2015 that he couldn’t possibly get the nomination, and follows with recent coverage asserting how dramatically his fortunes have changed.

In fact, a new Quinnipiac University survey of Republican voters nationwide shows Trump leading Cruz just 28 percent to 24 percent, with Florida Senator Marco Rubio farther behind at 12 percent. The poll surveyed 508 Republican voters from Dec. 16 to 20, and has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

Introducing Cruz here on Sunday afternoon, Alabama Republican congressman Mo Brooks condemned the $1.15 trillion spending bill that passed Congress on Friday, citing a criticism by conservative groups that it could lead to a quadrupling of the number of H-2B visas offered to foreign workers.

“Ted Cruz stood strong in opposition to that legislation in contrast to another presidential candidate that was AWOL,” he said, referring to Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who skipped the vote for a campaign event in Iowa. Rubio’s lack of attendance has become a liability as opponents have hammered him for it.

At a rally at an airport hangar in Kennesaw, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta on Friday night, nearly every sentence in Cruz’s stump speech received applause, cheers or laughter. He received multiple standing ovations throughout his remarks at the Trussville Civic Center on Sunday afternoon when he said he would abolish the IRS and the Department of Education, among other campaign promises.

The magnitude of the cross-country tour and the big screens showing the Cruz’s videos belie a campaign skimping wherever it can to save money. One network producer complained of cheap, shaky press risers for TV cameras and the lack, at some events, of a multi-box that cameras can plug into to pick up high-quality sound coming from the microphones on stage. But several men in suits with earpieces ushered reporters around the event, which was a new twist that looked like Secret Service protection is in the offing.

High-level staffers who travel regularly book their own arrangements rather than rely on administrative staff at campaign headquarters like other teams. The staff is so small that rapid response director Brian Phillips, who usually monitors press coverage from Houston, is helping out with advance preparations on the tour.

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