As expectations rise for Ted Cruz's presidential bid in his home state, the Republican senator says the Texas primary is important to him — but that his campaign is already looking far beyond it.
"The polling right now has us with a really strong lead in Texas, and we're going to work hard to maintain that," the GOP senator said Saturday in an Iowa interview with The Texas Tribune. "I'm hopeful and I believe we'll do well in the Texas primary, but I'll tell you, we're competing nationwide," he added, referring to efforts to compete "very, very hard" in the early-voting states.
Cruz's remarks came in response to a question about whether he viewed Texas, with its increased clout in 2016, as a must-win state. He has previously downplayed the idea that his campaign hinges on any particular contest, pointing to his campaign's drive to set up shop in states deep into the primary calendar, such as California and New Jersey.
Texas, though, is bound to command more attention than usual, with a relatively early primary on March 1 and strong ties to several candidates, including Cruz, former Gov. Rick Perry and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The most recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll found Cruz leading the GOP pack in the Lone Star State, with Perry trailing him by 8 percentage points.
On Saturday, Cruz emphasized how central Texas has been to his campaign's early financial success, citing "earth-shattering and record-shattering fundraising" in the Lone Star State. Campaign finance records show Texans played an outsize role in his $4.3 million first-week haul, which he has characterized as a modern record.
"I absolutely intend to compete vigorously in the state of Texas, and I'm gratified by the incredible support we have there," Cruz said in the interview. Asked whether he will win Texas, the candidate replied: "I certainly hope so. We're going to work very hard to do that."
In the interview, Cruz was also asked about two issues he has been vocal about in Congress — gun rights and corporate welfare — that were debated during the most recent legislative session in Austin. In each case, he mostly deferred to state lawmakers and praised his old boss, former Attorney General and current Gov. Greg Abbott, for taking the lead, specifically on Abbott's successful proposal to abolish the Emerging Technology Fund.
On gun rights, Cruz did not close the door on supporting either a state or federal version of constitutional carry, which is also known as unlicensed open carry. Abbott has signed into law campus carry and open carry legislation, though some lawmakers are already pushing to expand gun rights further next session.
“You know, it is difficult to find legislation protecting the right to keep and bear arms that I wouldn’t support," Cruz said when asked whether he could support constitutional carry at either the federal or state level. But he reiterated that he thinks "most of these issues are primarily at the state level, and that’s where the battles have been fought.”
"I've got a lot of confidence in our elected officials in Texas that they are going to be faithful to protecting the Second Amendment," he added.