State Politics

Ted Cruz packs Raleigh church, blasts Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz had strong words for front-runner Donald Trump as he taped a Fox News interview with Megyn Kelly in front of an enthusiastic Wake County crowd Tuesday afternoon.

Hundreds of people stood in line outside and weren’t able to get into the event at Calvary Baptist Church, south of Raleigh near Wake Technical Community College. The packed room erupted in cheers of “We want Ted” as the Texas senator took the stage.

Cruz criticized Trump for leading crowds at his rallies in a pledge to support him, which he says is “like subjects to a king.”

“No political candidate is going to make America great again,” he said, referring to Trump’s campaign slogan. “The only power strong enough is we the people.”

Cruz had been scheduled to tape the Kelly interview on stage, then hold a traditional rally. But the campaign ran out of time for a rally. Cruz left the building after signing autographs and greeting supporters.

Cruz is among several presidential candidates scheduled to visit North Carolina this week ahead of the state’s March 15 primary. Trump will hold a rally in Fayetteville on Wednesday, and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton will campaign in the state on Thursday.

Cruz got loud cheers for his major policy points: Defund Planned Parenthood, end the Common Core educational standards, establish a flat tax and abolish the IRS. He said he would make this year’s election a referendum on those issues if he gets the GOP nomination.

“We’re behind you, Ted,” supporters shouted periodically.

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Cruz said that if Republican Party insiders try to derail the nominee at the convention, “there will be an open revolt.” But he said he has no problem with a brokered convention if no candidate collects the necessary number of delegates.

“Reagan and Ford battled it out at a contested convention,” he said. “That’s what the convention is for. That’s the way the system works, and that’s perfectly appropriate.”

In a news conference before the event and on stage with Kelly, Cruz repeatedly took aim at Trump, saying he’s the only candidate who can stop the controversial billionaire.

He also said Trump’s recent criticisms of his religion show weakness. “When he goes down to attacking people’s faith, you can tell that Donald is worried,” he said. “Donald is upset.”

Kelly asked Cruz about the recent presidential debate in which Trump made an apparent reference to his genitalia. “I have no views whatsoever on any part of Donald Trump’s anatomy,” Cruz said. “I frankly could not care less, and I don’t think voters care either.”

The Raleigh event was the first of several North Carolina stops for Cruz this week. Later Tuesday afternoon, Cruz held a rally at another Baptist church in Kannapolis.

On Sunday, he’ll be at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord with conservative TV host Glenn Beck and actor Chuck Norris. That event will be sponsored by a pro-Cruz political action committee instead of the campaign itself.

The Raleigh event drew a crowd far bigger than former President Bill Clinton’s rally in the city the day before – even though supporters got less than 24 hours’ notice.

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Art Shacter of Raleigh said he found out Monday night, and he called a campaign contact he found online to make sure he could get a ticket. Shacter said he has read Cruz’s book and was impressed by his background.

“He did a good job as solicitor general” in Texas, he said. “He’s conservative, and I like that.”

Several recent polls show Cruz in second place among likely GOP primary voters in North Carolina – putting him ahead of Marco Rubio and John Kasich. Because the state uses a proportional system for Republican convention delegates, Cruz could add to his delegate count even if Trump wins the state.

Cruz said North Carolina will play an important role in his campaign’s success. “North Carolina is tremendously important,” he said. “North Carolina is going to have a decisive impact on this primary.”

Some at the Cruz rally said they initially supported Trump’s campaign. Shawnee Bartley of Jacksonville said she ditched Trump after she “started doing my homework” and learned more about Cruz.

She likes that he’s opposed to Common Core and talks about protecting Second Amendment gun rights.

In conservative social media circles, she said, “I can see a shift turning from Trump to Cruz. ... I don’t want an angry president.”

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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