Urbandale, Iowa -- Texas Senator Ted Cruz spent much of the past several months focused on building his presidential campaign in Southern states and accumulating his financial war chest, but he’s about bring his full attention to the first-in-the-nation caucus state.
“When it comes to Iowa, we are all in,” Cruz told an eager crowd of about 100 volunteers and supporters last month at the opening of his new headquarters in the state.
Cruz is preparing for a three-day swing through 12 cities here next week – just his second trip to the state in nearly two months.
“Others have spent more time here, but we have a strategy in place,” Matt Schultz, Cruz’s Iowa chair, said. “You’re going to see Ted here a lot more--that’s always been the intent. The way things are playing out--we couldn’t have asked for it to be better.”
As Donald Trump spent the summer flying his helicopter over the state fair and holding boisterous campaign rallies in several cities, the firebrand senator from Texas has been largely quiet in Iowa, although the campaign insists his team has been plenty busy.
“We’ve got a great grassroots team that’s excited about the work they’ve been doing and will continue to do,” Bryan English, Cruz’s Iowa state director, told NBC News last week. “Now they’re going to see more and more of the senator in the state of Iowa from here to the caucus.”
The campaign has four paid staffers based out of Urbandale, a town just 15 minutes west of Des Moines. And Schultz, the current Madison County Attorney and a former secretary of state, arrived to the team after helping Rick Santorum’s surprise run in 2012.
In a nomination cycle in which campaigns fear peaking too early, Cruz sits humbly at 6 percent in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released on Sunday of Iowa Republicans. The poll also shows the Texas senator currently tied with Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
The campaign proudly touts its ground game in the state. It has campaign chairs in each of the state’s 99 counties plus a “99 Iowa Pastors” initiative it continues to build. Cruz is also slowly mounting endorsements from elected officials across the state--last week he picked up the endorsement of State Senator Randy Feenstra, a former backer of Scott Walker. It also is plucking former Ron Paul supporters in the state from backing the presidential bid of Rand Paul, the former congressman’s son.
Before he exited the campaign, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker also had established a well-built campaign infrastructure in the state, which consisted largely of the team that helped U.S. Senator Joni Ernst win her campaign last November. The Walker team trumpeted its coalition of 99 county chairs and vast grassroots network.
The Cruz campaign, however, says there’s a difference between the two.
“We aren’t running out of money!” Schultz exclaimed last week. “Let’s be honest--our campaign has the resources to back that infrastructure up. We’re continuing to move forward. We essentially have gas to put in the tank and others don’t.”
Cruz compared his campaign to the early exits of Scott Walker and Governor Rick Perry, both of whom struggled to keep up financially.
“We didn’t want to expend the funds until we got closer to caucus dates, so we would have money in the bank. Both Governor Walker and Perry are good men,” Cruz said. “But they ran out of money--because when you spend money early, you run out of money to communicate with voters.”
Republican operatives unaffiliated with the campaign acknowledge the evangelical senator could finish quite well on caucus day because of his network and available cash.
The Cruz campaign has yet to release its third quarter fundraising totals, but the campaign and pro-Cruz super PACs had already raised over $50 million combined through the middle of the summer.
The state’s significant evangelical electorate is expected to boost Cruz on caucus day. In 2012, evangelical voters made up 57 percent of Iowa Republican caucusgoers, according to Pew Research Center.
The state chose social conservatives in 2008 and 2012: Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Rick Santorum, respectively.
But unlike those elections, there is not necessarily a clear favorite to win the evangelical vote in 2016. Ben Carson, Jindal, Santorum, Huckabee, and potentially Marco Rubio, are all making ploys for the Christian-right vote.
Cruz already has the endorsement of the high-profile Christian conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace, whose radio program reaches large swaths of rural, conservative Iowa.
“You keep doing what you're doing. You've already beaten [the other candidates] and boxed them in with regards to fundraising and organization,” Deace said. “So now you just let the process play itself out, and you'll be the last conservative candidate standing.”
Two other influential endorsements are possible to capture later this fall: Rep. Steve King and Bob Vander Plaats, the president The Family Leader, which advocates for social-conservative causes.
“I think he is the only candidate in the race who could potentially get both of those endorsements,” Deace argued.
And Cruz’s most profound surrogate, his father, Rafael Cruz, continues to make solo stops at churches across the state to conjure up support among congregations.
Nancie Anderson, 56, an evangelical Christian from Urbandale, attended a Donald Trump watch party and a Ben Carson rally in August. But Anderson said she is squarely with Cruz. She volunteered at his “Rally for Religious Liberty” in August and greeted people outside the socially-conservative Iowa Faith and Freedom Forum in September, donning her black Cruz shirt at both.
“Senator Cruz speaks the truth. He doesn’t just talk the talk. He walks the walk,” Anderson said. “His values and morals align with mine.”