Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is in Raleigh this weekend organizing his campaign in the state, sees some parallels between the crowded GOP presidential primary and the NCAA basketball tournament.
With the GOP primary becoming increasingly crowded, Cruz said it is useful to break down the field into brackets. Candidates must win their brackets in order to advance.
“I think of the Republican primary very much like an NCAA tournament bracket,” Cruz said in an interview at the Raleigh Convention Center on Friday.
The typical Republican primary, Cruz said, is composed of 35 percent self-identified moderates, 15 percent libertarians, 25 percent evangelicals and 25 percent conservative/Tea Partiers.
The basic rule of thumb, Cruz said, is you have to win your own bracket and then compete in other brackets.
“I think my natural bracket is the conservative/Tea Party bracket which is about 25 percent of the typical Republican primary,’’ said Cruz, who has risen to national prominence with his opposition to President Obama’s health care program and his championing of a government shutdown in 2013.
“I think my natural second bracket is the evangelical bracket,’’ he said. “There, there are number of other candidates who are competing. Mike Huckabee is likable, he is affable, he is a Southern Baptist minister. There are others in that bracket -- Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson. I think at the end of the day, Huckabee and I come out of that bracket neck and neck.”
A third bracket is the libertarians, which Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul dominates. But Cruz said he has made inroads among libertarians who believe in limited government “and yet are concerned about Rand’s foreign policy.”
The moderate bracket is crowded with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and others.
Taking shots already
He said that two candidates, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, don’t fit naturally into any bracket.
“Either or both could choose to come compete with me in the conservative bracket,” Cruz said. “But I don’t think that is likely. If you look at their records, look at the teams they have hired, if you look at the decisions they are making real-time in the campaign, I think both have decided to compete in the moderate bracket. Indeed, I think Walker and Rubio will become the chief moderate rivals for Jeb Bush in that bracket.”
“There are couple of consequences of that,” Cruz continued. “It means those guys are going to spend millions of dollars tearing each other apart because first they have to win their own bracket, which is why you have seen those candidates taking shots at each other already.”
Cruz said he is not going to win the moderate bracket. But he said he is picking up support from some moderate donors who recognize that nominating another Republican moderate “is a path to electing Hillary Clinton president.”
Cruz is using the state Republican convention, meeting Friday through Sunday, to begin organizing his Tar Heel campaign. He spoke to a Republican women’s group Friday, met privately with pastors, and was scheduled to speak to the convention on Saturday.
He is relying on a grass roots campaign. He noted that in the first week of his campaign, 95 percent of his contributions were of $100 or less.
“To win, we must re-assemble the old Reagan coalition,” Cruz said. “We have to bring together conservatives and evangelicals and young people and Hispanics and African-Americans and Reagan Democrats. What I am most encouraged about is we are seeing that Reagan coalition coming together behind our campaign.”
The GOP in Raleigh
Friday in the Raleigh Convention Center
7 p.m. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
Saturday in the Raleigh Convention Center
9 a.m. Commissioner Cherie Berry, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, and Sen. Richard Burr
12 p.m. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz
2 p.m. Hon. Richard Dietz, N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, N.C. Sen. Thom Tillis, Gov. Pat McCrory
7 p.m. Donald Trump
Sunday in the Marriott Raleigh City Center
9 a.m. Ben Carson