When Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz took the stage in a packed room in Midtown Manhattan on Wednesday, he led with a platitude that raised eyebrows.
“God bless the great State of New York,” the Texas senator said.
The introduction was a far cry from Cruz’s invocation of “New York values” as a slight against rival Donald Trump in front of Iowa voters in January.
On the heels of his victory in the Utah caucuses in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Cruz declared that New York would be “a battleground” between himself and Trump.
He also previewed how he planned to flip the script in Trump’s home state: Undermining Trump’s credibility as a conservative and working to chip away at Trump’s lead downstate areas like New York City.
During his speech, Cruz repeatedly hammered Trump. Among other things, he listed various Democratic lawmakers whom Trump donated money to in past elections.
“Donald Trump over and over again has supported Andrew Cuomo and Hillary Clinton and Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer,” Cruz said. “So next time you think of all the disastrous policies that have been foisted on New York, you can thank Donald Trump for bankrolling those efforts.”
Speaking with reporters after the event, Cruz returned to the topic
One of the reasons why we’re poised to do really well here is people know Donald Trump. They know that for 40 years, Donald Trump has bankrolled these same liberal politicians that have inflicted so much damage on the state of New York.
Cruz peppered his normal stump speech with New York-specific themes, criticising the ban on hydraulic fracturing in upstate New York and hitting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tense relationship with charter-school advocates. He further touted de Blasio’s criticism of his plan to enlist law-enforcement officers to patrol “Muslim neighbourhood.”
“I arrived in New York yesterday and Mayor Bill de Blasio promptly held a press conference to denounce me. So I must be doing something right,” Cruz said to the Women’s National Republican Club. “I’ve got to say, if Mayor de Blasio ever holds a press conference saying, ‘I agree with Ted,’ that will be the instant I hang it up and realise I’ve gone terribly, terribly wrong.”
Later in the speech, Cruz returned to the critique, praising the New York Police Department officers who turned their backs on de Blasio in protest at two police officers’ funeral last year.
“When the heroes of the NYPD stood up and turned their backs on Mayor de Blasio, they spoke not just for the men and women of New York, but also for the men and women of this nation,” Cruz said.
Despite his optimism, Cruz faces a massive uphill battle in the state. The few recent polls of likely New York Republican primary voters found Trump with a 30- to 40-point lead over Cruz.
Cruz is nevertheless working hard in the state to stop Trump from hitting the 50% ceiling in individual congressional districts that would help the Manhattan billionaire win the majority of the state’s 95 delegates. If Trump dominates in New York, he’d come significantly closer to clinching the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the GOP nomination.
Gavin Wax, a Cruz campaign New York state director, told Business Insider that the Cruz’s plan relies on pulling delegates away from Trump in downstate areas where he said Trump has little institutional support.
“We think we can pull a few delegates here and there, especially downstate where there were a lot of Rubio supporters who are coming on either publicly or behind the scenes,” Wax said, referring to former candidate Marco Rubio.
Wax said Cruz would be back in the state himself before the April 19 primary and his wife, Heidi Cruz, would be holding a March 29 event in Sheepshead Bay, a Brooklyn neighbourhood, as well as events in Staten Island and Long Island.
He also said the campaign also wants to win a symbolic victory in Queens, the borough Trump grew up in.
“We think we can make some headlines here in New York, especially Queens. We think it’d make a great headline to win there,” Wax said.
Cruz does appear to be shoring up at least some institutional support in the state.
After the event ended, former New York Gov. George Pataki, formerly a presidential candidate who had endorsed Rubio, made his way in for a meeting with Cruz. Though he did not say he was endorsing Cruz, Pataki defended Cruz from the criticism he received for attacking Trump’s “New York values.”
Pataki insisted that Cruz “wasn’t talking about firefighters or people who ride the subway.”
The former governor also said that “Republicans need to nominate someone other than Donald Trump.”
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