Ted Cruz told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday that a Donald Trump victory in Iowa would help him in New Hampshire, a state where polls show him with a sizable lead.
"His winning here would give him momentum," Cruz said on "Meet The Press." "No doubt about it. And he's in a strong position in New Hampshire."
But Cruz pushed back on the notion that a Trump victory in the Hawkeye State would solidify the nomination, saying he would “not necessarily” be unstoppable but “could be.”
The Texas senator also said the race will come down to who “conservatives unite” around, believing that if enough voters coalesce around his campaign and abandon the other low-polling alternatives, like Ben Carson and Rand Paul, then he can overcome Trump’s current lead during the caucuses on Monday.
Cruz acknowledged concern that lower-polling candidates could chip away at his base of support – though those caucus-goers, he believes, would side with him in a more consolidated field.
“I’m always worried about it,” Cruz said.
In the respected Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll released on Saturday, Trump leapfrogged Cruz with an eight-percentage point swing from just two weeks ago. Trump now holds a five-point edge among likely Iowa caucus-goers over Cruz – 28 percent to 23 percent
Cruz’s drop in the polls occurred parallel to an onslaught of attack ads over TV and on fliers in communities across Iowa that questioned his conservative credentials. Trump has also questioned Cruz’s eligibility to be president because of his birth in Canada.
Especially troubling for Cruz has been his opposition to the federal law that requires the U.S. fuel supply to use a certain amount of ethanol, a key economic driver in Iowa. The Renewable Fuel Standard is especially important in the state’s farming and rural communities, areas Cruz needs to do well in if he wants to win.
Cruz has proposed phasing out the law over five years while also eliminating an EPA regulation that a blend wall that doesn’t allow for most higher ethanol blends to be sold.
Cruz pushed back against suggestions his proposal on the issue would hurt the state’s economy, saying, “The lobbyists very much want to keep Iowa focused on the ethanol mandate, because it keeps Iowa dependent on Washington.”
With just 36 hours until the Iowa caucus, Cruz also looked to simplify his closing argument, contrasting himself sharply with his two primary rivals, Trump and Marco Rubio, who lingers in third place with 15 percent of support.
“A vote for Marco Rubio is a vote for amnesty,” Cruz said. “And a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for Obamacare.”
Cruz insisted that his recent slights against Trump are rooted in policy disagreements, not personal attacks, suggesting the mogul holds “liberal” policies and is too willing to “get along with Democrats and grow government and support cronyism.”
“When Donald Trump calls me a Canadian anchor baby, I don’t respond with an insult,” Cruz belabored. “In fact, I'll sing Donald's praises. I like Donald.”
But Cruz also expressed exasperation at Trump’s shift in tone toward him.
“Six weeks ago, Donald thought I was terrific, I was his friend, he was singing my praises,” Cruz said. “Then his poll numbers started dropping, our numbers started surging. And suddenly, he began blasting me, not on policy, not on substance, but on personal insults and attacks.”
Cruz said he will continue to “run every minute” over the next 36 hours – he is slated to visit his final county in Iowa on Monday.