HOUSTON — Ted Cruz on Monday barnstormed his home state in an 11th-hour effort to shore up the support he critically needs to keep arguing he is the most viable alternative to Donald Trump in the Republican presidential race.
Rallying thousands of supporters in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, Texas' junior senator did not mince words as he sought to guard his home turf from billionaire Donald Trump, his closest competition across the country and at home.
"Tomorrow the state of Texas speaks its voice," Cruz declared here at Houston Baptist University, quickly pivoting to address the 65 percent of voters across the country who consistently tell pollsters they do not support Trump. "If Donald Trump is the nominee, Hillary likely wins, which means we lose this country, we lose the Supreme Court, we lose the Bill of Rights, we lose the future of our kids and our grandkids."
"If you're one of those 65 percent in Texas or the other Super Tuesday states, if you recognize Donald Trump should not be our nominee, that the consequences will be catastrophic, then I will point you to the undeniable fact that our campaign is the only campaign that has beaten and can beat Donald Trump," Cruz added.
Cruz is favored to win Tuesday in Texas, but it remains unclear by how much based on a series of largely inconclusive public polls. The same surveys indicate Cruz is unlikely to garner more than 50 percent of the vote, the winner-take-all threshold in Texas, and by the end of Monday, Cruz was acknowledging to reporters it probably would not happen.
In media appearances throughout Monday, Cruz was already working to frame the potential outcomes of Super Tuesday, arguing he is best positioned to emerge from the contests as the chief alternative to Trump.
“By the end of tomorrow night, in all likelihood, Donald Trump will have a big chunk, we’ll have a big chunk of delegates and everyone else will be way, way, way down,” Cruz told conservative radio host Mark Levin.
Cruz continued: “I am likely going to win Texas tomorrow. Marco Rubio is not going to win his home state of Florida. He’s 20 points down in Florida right now. He hasn’t won a state. He’s not likely to win a state tomorrow. You can’t win the nomination, you can’t beat Donald Trump, unless you win a state.”
Cruz supporters have watched with some uncertainty as early voting turnout has reached new heights, perhaps indicating a surge of first-time voters enticed by Trump. They have nothing to worry about, according to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chairs Cruz's campaign in Texas.
"Tomorrow will set all records for Republican votes in a Texas primary," Patrick told reporters before Cruz's Houston rally. "A million more people are coming, and I fully believe they are coming out to support their favorite son."
Cruz was also joined on the campaign trail in Texas by former Gov. Rick Perry and Gov. Greg Abbott, who starred in a TV ad the Cruz campaign released Monday. Perry, meanwhile, reprised his role from his aborted 2016 campaign as Trump attack dog, most sharply mocking the billionaire for his draft deferments.
"When our country needed Donald Trump, I’m not sure where he was, back in the ’60s," said Perry, an Air Force veteran, as he introduced Cruz on Monday morning at rally in Dallas.
“Oh, I forgot,” Perry icily added. “He had those bone spurs, and he couldn’t serve in our military. I got friends that don’t have any legs because they have lost them in Afghanistan. and they’re back serving today.”
Trump’s campaign is looking to upset Cruz on his home turf Tuesday, or at least prevent the Texan from claiming a resounding victory. At the 10th Republican debate Thursday in Houston, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski all but suggested Cruz would have to drop out of the race if he did not win his home state.
"If Sen. Cruz loses the state of Texas, it’s going to be very, very difficult for him to justify staying in the race," Lewandowski told reporters, still taking note of Cruz’s home-field advantage. "He’s getting tens of thousands of volunteers. Everyone in the state knows him. It’s just a question of if his message, which is, 'Another politician, all talk, no action' — if that’s what the people want."
As he rallied supporters Monday in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, Cruz made a point of how he has endeavored to fulfill the promises he made to Texas voters four years ago. "Every day in the Senate, I have worked each and every minute to honor my commitment, to honor my word, to you," Cruz said here, ticking through a number of congressional battles on which he has been on the front lines.
Cruz’s rally here got off to a rocky start as he became besieged by hecklers immediately upon taking the stage. The protesters persisted for several minutes as an unfazed Cruz denounced them as coddled college students who "do not understand the First Amendment."
“If the truth hurts your precious ears, go hide in a Bernie Sanders rally,” Cruz ultimately said, referring to the Democratic candidate.
Speaking with reporters shortly before the rally, Cruz was in a more introspective mood, reflecting on how far he has come from the early days of his 2012 Senate campaign. He often jokes he started his long-shot bid for Congress at 2 percent in the polls — and 3 percent was the margin of error.
"A lot of the men and women who are here at this rally right now are original 2 Percenters," Cruz told reporters. "They are people that were with us when nobody else was."
As Cruz's rally here let out, one of those early supporters, Houston teacher Deanna Scott-Simmons, expressed some disbelief that Trump has been able to draw support from a not-insignificant number of Cruz's constituents.
"I have no clue really what he stands for — all I know he's going to build a wall that's very tall and we'll all love it," she said.
As for Cruz's home-state showing Tuesday, Scott-Simmons added: "I think he'll win. I'm hoping that he just wins big enough."