Allentown, Pennsylvania — Ted Cruz skipped the pie during his visit to Hamilton Family Restaurant on Friday night, and encountered a crowd that was seemingly a microcosm of the electorate he is courting ahead of the state’s primary on Tuesday.
Hundreds lined up for a chance to see Cruz in a town where several of the locals could not recall the last time a GOP contender campaigned.
"Candidates don’t come to Allentown," said Steven Jecker, who lives just outside of the town and drove in to see Cruz. "They don’t bother going to the small towns."
But Cruz has come to be known to campaign in towns not frequently visited.
Among those awaiting a photo opportunity with the GOP hopeful was a family that shared the name of Cruz’s now-arch rival.
"My last name is actually Trump," said Michael Trump, who drove into town with his two young daughters.
Putting his hand on Trump’s shoulder, Cruz asked, "So are you with me?"
"On the fence right now, but I’m leaning your way, Senator Cruz," the Pennsylvania man responded.
Cruz promptly turned him toward the press cameras: “If I can do this without embarrassing you, I do want to point out that Mr. Trump is leaning towards voting for me."
The candidate shook Trump’s hand and then turned toward Bob Wippel, a Vietnam veteran, sitting across the way on a bar stool at the diner’s countertop. With Cruz’s path to the nomination narrowed to winning at a contested convention, Wippel briefly expressed concern to Cruz that the will of voters could be "disregarded" at the convention.
"I do want to point out that Mr. Trump is leaning towards voting for me."
"I believe the peoples’ votes should count – they should stay with whomever they vote for," Wippel told NBC News after talking with Cruz. "And at the end, you add [the delegates] all up and the winner is the winner. You don’t do all this other stuff – second and third layer."
In speeches on the campaign trail, Cruz often attributes his viability in a general election to Democrats and Independents changing their party affiliations to back his bid.
Inside this restaurant, Kevin Troisi, an accountant from Easton, told Cruz unprompted that he switched from an Independent to register as a Republican for the state’s closed primary, saying he had yet to change until now because past Republican candidates were not true conservatives.
Asked whether he backed Mitt Romney or John McCain, Troisi told NBC News, "They did not make it – they never made it for me."
Cruz said aloud after hearing Troisi’s story: "He changed his registration to vote with us. Somehow those [stories] don’t end up on the news. But that’s a worthwhile story to hear."
Outside the restaurant, protester Holly Bower, a transgender woman, held up a cardboard sign that read: "Trans Lives Matter."
Amid the two-day period in which Cruz blasted Trump’s support of so-called "bathroom bills," which allow individuals to use the restroom of the gender in which they identify, Bower stood on the edge of the crowd just a few yards away from where Cruz exited his campaign bus.
"I’m here to show Ted that trans people are not for him at all," Bower said as Cruz shook hands inside the diner. "A real trans person is going into a bathroom to go to a bathroom -- that’s it. The worst thing that might happen is they may ask them for makeup advice."
On the delegate front — with just three days left to wrangle support among the state’s potential unbound delegates — Cruz met three backers whom he hopes to be elected as national delegates to the Republican convention this summer.
"You have my support, senator," said Bob Smith, who decided just a day earlier to back Cruz and found himself being introduced to his now-favored candidate by another Cruz loyalist and potential delegate Mark Hoffman.
"Thank you for your leadership on the ground,” Cruz told the duo, shaking Smith’s hand. “It’s all about bringing the party together."
On the other end of the restaurant, Kelly and Mark Meitzler, who drove from their home in Hamburg to meet Cruz, recognized Dean Browning, another Cruz backer and potential delegate who will appear on their primary ballot on Tuesday.
"We looked up who our delegates were so we’d be prepared on Tuesday for the election on who we need to vote for to support Cruz," Kelly Metzler said.