He hasn’t been here in two months, his evangelical emphasis is out of step with this secular-minded state, and he’s routinely overshadowed by Donald Trump.
But none of that is stopping Ted Cruz from making a final big push for New Hampshire, where he’s slowly gained ground since October and is poised to finish among the top three or four candidates.
Few in Republican New Hampshire circles expect him to win here, a state where Trump has a wide lead over everyone else in the crowded field. Yet there’s a sense that Cruz could capitalize on a splintered establishment GOP vote, and assemble a coalition of tea partiers, libertarians and social conservatives – enough to beat expectations in a state that has favored more ideologically moderate candidates at the presidential level.
“Cruz is not the type of candidate who naturally appeals to the state, he’s more of a tailor-made candidate for Iowa,” said Ryan Williams, a Jeb Bush backer and veteran of Mitt Romney’s campaigns with New Hampshire ties, nodding to Cruz’s outspoken social conservatism. “What Cruz benefits from this cycle is, the field is so fractured, there are so many serious candidates who are running, he appears to be establishing himself as a conservative alternative to Trump.”
That positioning offers a lane for Cruz to run in – while the hardline conservative wing doesn’t represent a majority in the state party, he doesn’t need to win a majority in such a crowded field to have a solid showing.
“In 2012 it was Romney with the big lead here, and the conservatives were split up,” said former Sen. Bob Smith, a co-chair of Cruz’s efforts in the state and a member of his national team. “Now what we see is, Cruz is clearly the conservative favorite at this point. If Cruz does well in Iowa, which right now looks very good, then he can come here and we think we can unify a lot of conservatives who might be with other candidates, and be right in the thick of things. That’s our plan.”
It’s a plan that will only work, however, if Trump doesn’t cut too far into the mad-as-hell base that would typically be a natural fit for Cruz, who has made a brand fighting with Washington colleagues at every turn.
“He’s done an exceptionally good job of consolidating a lot of conservative support,” said Jim Rubens, a 2014 Senate primary candidate with close ties to the libertarian and tea party grassroots constituencies Cruz is engaging.
But, he added, “The people who would gravitate [to Cruz] precisely because they match the issues, the policy positions, have migrated to Trump…That’s the biggest surprise, that Trump has pulled over so many people who typically would be no-compromise, pro-life social conservatives.”
At the Tuesday afternoon event, held outdoors at a shooting range in near-freezing New Hampshire weather, Cruz skipped the overtly religious rhetoric that’s become so familiar to Iowans, instead focusing on his commitment to gun rights and lambasting the Obama administration’s attempts to rein them in (as well as chastising two protestors who briefly joined him onstage, and jeering at the media for following up with “the nitwits.”).
The crowd wasn’t as rapturous as those he encounters in the South, but audience members were committed, with around 500 shivering and swaying through around a 20-minute speech, in addition to warm-ups from former Rep. Bob Barr, who is helping with libertarian outreach, Smith and other backers.
“Cruz knows the Constitution like the back of his hand,” enthused Cindy George, 53, a conservative activist from Salem.
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SOURCE: KATIE GLUECK