From Dorchester, South Carolina
On the eve of the next Republican debate in South Carolina, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) drew several hundred supporters to a rally northwest of Charleston, urging voters in the Palmetto State to join his conservative bid for the GOP nomination for President.
“The role of South is to insure that the next President is a real and proven conservative,” Cruz said, in a line that could be taken as a slight jab at Donald Trump.
Fresh off an extended bus trip through Iowa, and several days of stops in New Hampshire, Cruz told the crowd he feels very good about where he stands in the race for the Republican nomination.
“Every day as we travel the country, I’m more and more encouraged that we are seeing conservatives come together,” Cruz told reporters after his rally.
At this stop, Cruz stuck to his familiar stump speech, drawing strong applause with his basic message of reform and major change in Washington, D.C.
“By the way, if you see a candidate that Washington embraces, run and hide,” Cruz said to cheers.
Asked by a reporter after the rally about his recent spat with Donald Trump over Cruz’s birthplace, Cruz made clear he thought Trump was worried about the GOP race.
“This issue did not seem to concern Donald until a little over a week ago, when he was trailing in the polls in Iowa,” Cruz said.
Cruz and Trump will be standing next to each on stage for the debate on Thursday night, which could provide some sparks if this issue is brought up.
Cruz supporters see a path to defeat Trump
Recent polls here in South Carolina have had Trump in the lead, with Cruz second and Marco Rubio third, and on the eve of the debate, that was fully acknowledged by Cruz backers.
“It’s Trump’s territory, with Cruz building,” said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), who helped to introduce Cruz at his Wednesday rally.
“I do think it’s true that Trump has the lead at this point,” said former state Attorney General Charlie Condon, who endorsed Cruz this week.
“But I’m confident once they start focusing on the issues, the personalities and what people stand for, and what they’ve done – Ted will do just fine,” Condon added.
In interviews with Cruz supporters – and in listening to Cruz – there is the sense that one line of attack on Trump might be to emphasize that Cruz is a real conservative – while at the same time questioning Trump’s conservative bona fides.
“I do not feel like Trump is a serious candidate,” said Mary Pearson, the Dorchester County Treasurer. “I almost feel like he is on an ego trip.”
Watch for the phrase “proven conservative” – and see if that makes its way into the Republican debate in Charleston.