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How Ted Cruz plans to win Florida and the South

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The big story coming out of New Hampshire, arguably: Ted Cruz finishing third with a financial outlay of just $580,000, which easily was the best ROI for votes for any candidate in either primary.

Cruz, dismissed by the media after his Iowa victory, and his third place finish in New Hampshire, is in the game for the duration. In a Wednesday conversation in Jacksonville with his campaign chairman, Chad Sweet, a wide range of topics came up. Among them: Cruz’s strategy for Florida; how he intends to dislodge Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, the Sunshine State’s favorite suns; campaign strategy more generally, including deep data analysis and the ground game essential to winning competitive primaries.

The first question that came to mind: why, with South Carolina promising to be a free for all as it was in 2000, Cruz’s campaign chairman was in town.

Sweet said that the campaign “believes in going anywhere, anytime,” and with Rubio failing in New Hampshire, the time was now to make the case to voters in Rubio’s back yard that Cruz was a “consistent conservative” and “change agent,” as opposed to Rubio, for whom “amnesty shows otherwise.

Jeb Bush, the choice of the money men in Northeast Florida, is equally problematic, and vulnerable on the issue of Common Core and other issues, to be sure.

Sweet said that Cruz will make the sale “handshake by handshake,” helped along by members of his team like former Duval GOP Chair Rick Hartley, described by Sweet as one of the “Florida heavyweights” backing Cruz.

And Sweet believes others will follow. Cruz, according to the Real Clear Polling average, is well ahead of Rubio and Bush, with momentum from the New Hampshire win, where Cruz “beat both [Floridians] in a state where the media counted him out.”

Part of the key: the ground game, augmented by Camp Cruz, in which unused dorms and old hotels are rented for temporary housing for the Cruz team, at a significant cost savings. And by Cruz Kits (“FEC approved,” Sweet assured me), which contain yard signs and other paraphenalia. And by Strike Forces, comprised of “seasoned volunteers from the GOTV effort in other elections.”

These elements, augmented by “cutting edge technology” and the “highest investment in deep data analysis,” have helped Cruz to two strong showings while maintaining the highest cash on hand of any campaign.

Targeting high propensity voters, Sweet said, was “campaign 101.”

The real key to Cruz’s strategy, and the “harder part,” is the use of data analytics to identify new voters, especially those who might have been “disenchanted in the past,” and getting the message to them in a “tailored way.”

“Identify[ing] the low propensity voters who other campaigns are ignoring,” and “tailoring issues and how they think about those issues,” has been key to Cruz’s success thus far.

And clearly, will continue to be key.

The Cruz campaign outperformed expectations in Iowa, Sweet said, where the media presumed that a high turnout would lead to a Cruz loss; instead, with the turnout of Republicans up over 50 percent from 2008, Cruz got the highest number of votes of any Republican in Iowa history.

And those votes in that “astonishing victory, even in the face of standing up to ethanol,” Sweet affirms, span a “high variety of demographics,” including seemingly disparate camps like libertarians and evangelicals, as well as millennials and the non-college educated.

Sweet believes that Cruz is uniquely positioned as one of “only three campaigns with the resources and the infrastructure” for the long haul.

The other two: Bush and Trump. Not, he affirmed, Marco Rubio.

Rubio “spent an inordinate amount of resources in Iowa and New Hampshire,” including $15 million on a fifth place finish in the Granite State.

“Rubio depleted his coffers,” Sweet said, and “has a ground game in those two states,” with some minor strength in Nevada, Sweet added.

Now? “Marco is dangerously close to being out of ammunition,” even as the media “has a love affair with [Rubio] as the Golden Child.”

Regarding Iowa, where Rubio was lauded for a strong third place finish, Sweet said it was a case of “bronze is the new gold.”

Sweet was dismissive of the viability of John Kasich in the south, and likewise sees an opportunity to go toe to toe with Donald Trump.

“More and more voters are examining track records of the candidates in detail,” Sweet said.

While Trump and Cruz share an “anti-establishment message with strong appeal,” the “central question is who can change Washington” and who has a “track record of fighting for change with consistent conservative principles.”

Sweet shares Jeb Bush’s contention that Trump is vulnerable on issues like eminent domain, having “played the corrupt crony capitalist game to advance his business interests,” giving to Democrats and Republicans alike… and giving more money to the Clinton Foundation than to veterans’ groups historically.

Trump is also vulnerable on the abortion issue, where he is “pro choice in every respect, including late-term and partial-birth abortion” procedures.

And Trump’s health care plan? “Obamacare on steroids,” Sweet said.

On immigration, meanwhile, “Turnstile Trump” favors “touchback amnesty,” allowing deportees back into the country after they are removed.

Judging from my conversation with Sweet, the Cruz strategy boils down to taking out Rubio, undermining Trump’s newfound conservative stances, and a tactical detente with Bush, for now.

We’ll see how that plays out. So far, though, Cruz has a gold and a bronze in two primaries, with the friendly territory of South Carolina and the SEC Primary ahead of him.

A.G. Gancarski has written a weekly column for Jacksonville’s Folio Weekly since 2003. His writings on politics, culture, and sport have appeared in the Washington Times, the Daily Caller, and the American Conservative. His radio and TV appearances include frequent contributions to WJCT-FM (Jacksonville’s Public Radio station); additionally, he has been a guest on Huff Post Live and the Savage Nation radio show. Gancarski can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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