With Super Tuesday on the horizon, GOP contenders will make their case on the debate stage in Texas on Thursday night. The Lone Star State is one of 12 states in the presidential contest on March 1, the single most important day for candidates to win delegates.
Texas alone holds 155 Republican delegates; Without winning that state candidates must conquer five others including Colorado, Minnesota, Vermont, Alaska and Arkansas to equal the amount.
It will be a make or break moment for Texas Senator Ted Cruz who is poised to win his home state. In a new Monmouth University poll, Cruz has 38% support from likely GOP primary voters in Texas, billionaire businessman Donald Trump has 23%, Florida Senator Marco Rubio has 21%, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has 6% and Ohio Governor John Kasich has 5%.
In Houston on Wednesday, Senator Cruz told the audience at a GOP dinner that Texas will play a key role on Super Tuesday adding, “the crown jewel is the great state of Texas.”
Historically, Texas has been one of the key states that predicts who will be the eventual party nominee. Thomas Brunell, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Dallas says Cruz has everything riding on Texas and must meet pre-poll expectations.
“Cruz has to win Texas by more than just a couple points. If he doesn’t win and beat Donald Trump in his home state then his campaign is done and the money will dry up,” said Brunell.
Brunell adds that the Republican primary debate will be Cruz’s last opportunity to expose Trump’s weaknesses and try new tactics before Super Tuesday.
Ford O'Connell, Republican strategist and former advisor to the McCain-Palin 2008 campaign, says Trump’s momentum has to do with the fact that Cruz and Rubio have been squabbling with each other instead of “turning up the fire” on Trump.
“You have to cast doubt that Trump can actually ‘make America great again.’ This is not about his policies, his supporters don’t care about policy. The question is can you cast doubt on his character and resume,” said O’Connell.
He says the real estate mogul has two perceived strengths that can win him the nomination; He is a successful businessman and, if elected, he is going to protect the little guy.
“You have to go after the fact that it is a myth that he is actually a highly successful businessman and then you have to say, when it comes to protecting the little guy, he is a con artist,” said O’Connell.
Even though only 5% of delegates have been awarded thus far, O’Connell says Trump is “psychologically running away with the nomination.” He says while Texas is important for Cruz it may not be enough to win the Republican nomination.
“The reality of the situation is on March 1 there are 595 delegates up in the air. Even if he wins Texas, it might not be a great day for Ted Cruz,” said O’Connell.
Cruz’s campaign was designed with a southern strategy in mind, which O’Connell says is a key to vaulting ahead to the nomination, but what he didn’t factor in is Trump still being in the race at this point.
“There was a miscalculation by Cruz that he would pick up Trump’s supporters. But what’s happened here is Donald Trump is eating into Cruz’s Evangelical margin so much that he either has a very narrow path to the nomination or Cruz may actually fold because of how well Trump did in South Carolina,” said O’Connell.
In the South Carolina GOP primary, Trump won 32.5% support, while Rubio came in second with 22.5% and Cruz was third with 22.3%.