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Ted Cruz Is Placing The Biggest Bet On The South

What did you do this December? Gain 5 pounds? Yell at a relative?

If you were a presidential candidate, you probably traveled to Iowa or New Hampshire and shook the hands of locals toting around that fruitcake weight and seething at their kin — unless you were Ted Cruz.

Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas, spent his December breaking out of the scrum of candidates giving each other political cauliflower ear in the first two states and started whistling Dixie; last month, he held only three events in Iowa and none in New Hampshire but attended 10 in the South (and that’s excluding South Carolina, which holds a relatively early primary at the end of February). Cruz appears to be back in the Iowa saddle for January in anticipation of the Feb. 1 caucuses — he’s touring the state via bus this week — but what he did in December is important, as it hints at his campaign’s thinking: Iowa’s in the bag, now it’s on to Super Tuesday.

March 1, aka Super Tuesday, is when the trickle of primaries turns into a gushing spigot of democracy. During December, Cruz visited Virginia, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Minnesota (for some wintry mix, no doubt) — all Super Tuesday states. Seven of the 12 Super Tuesday states in the GOP race are in the South, a traditional Republican stronghold. By contrast, Donald Trump, the current Republican leader in national polls, confined himself mostly to Iowa (four events) and New Hampshire (three events). The sole Super Tuesday state he traveled to was Virginia, where he held only one event. Marco Rubio campaigned in no state but Iowa during the month. Mike Huckabee also hit the South, holding six events in the region, which makes sense, given that he is a former governor of Arkansas.

Here’s a breakdown of where in the U.S. the GOP candidates held events during the last month of 2015.1

Republican candidates’ December events
Trump 4 3 2 2 1 2
Cruz 3 0 1 10 1 1
Rubio 7 0 0 0 0 0
Bush 0 10 0 0 0 0
Christie 14 10 0 1 0 0
Kasich 2 16 0 3 0 1
Carson 13 4 5 2 3 3
Paul 6 7 0 0 0 1
Fiorina 9 6 3 1 0 3
Santorum 13 0 0 0 0 0
Huckabee 17 0 1 6 0 4

Source: National Journal

Talking to the National Review in late December, Cruz said he saw his campaign on an easy path to victory in Iowa — “I don’t believe we have peaked” — and he seems to realize that New Hampshire Republicans are less likely to be in his very conservative wing of the party.

In the same interview, Cruz talked about the rightward shift of the Republican Party and how it will be a great asset to him in the primary. “Barack Obama has radicalized the American people,” Cruz said. “Today in the Republican Party conservatives outnumber moderates three to one.”

This thinking is likely what was behind Cruz’s “Take off with Ted” tour, which is what the campaign called his Southern swing, immortalized in this video featuring soaring instrumentals and Cruz climbing purposefully into a private jet, ready to barnstorm the locales flashed across the screen — Savannah, Mobile, Birmingham, Knoxville, Nashville, Little Rock, Tulsa.

During the 2008 Democratic primary, Obama won plaudits for his extensive field organization — after Iowa and New Hampshire had faded into the political ether, the Obama campaign was well-positioned for the slog of primaries and caucuses that followed, while Hillary Clinton’s campaign was caught somewhat flat-footed. And although it’s too early to know for sure, Cruz’s December look-ahead tour might just indicate that this cycle, his operation is the one to watch as the march toward March (and sure, November) continues.


  1. Here, the South includes North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Oklahoma (there was some intra-office debate about this last one, but the U.S Census Bureau thinks it’s in the South, and that’s good enough for yours truly); the Midwest includes Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana; and the West includes Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.