MARION, Iowa -- One hundred and twelve minutes before the doors opened at caucus sites across the state, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) bounded up to the altar of a Baptist church, turned, and looked out at 200 potential voters.
"God bless each of you," he said. "There's an ancient Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. We live in interesting times."
Standing in front of a simple wooden cross, framed by the flags of Iowa and the United States, Cruz chopped the air with his arms and delivered an urgent version of his stump speech. For the last time, he was prodded with a question about the renewable fuel standard. For the last time, he asked Iowans to imagine a Cruz presidency in which "millions of people trapped in poverty are lifted out of poverty" and where Planned Parenthood was totally defunded.
And for the last time before the vote, he warned that a vote for any of his rivals risked the victory of an establishment squish, someone who might make "great speeches" but inevitably betray social conservatives. Every voter at the caucuses, he said, was "undecided" until he could be convinced to go for Cruz.
"I don't care if he's decked head to toe in Donald Trump regalia," he said. "I don't care if he is Donald Trump. You have the opportunity to say: I know this guy. Listen, Ted Cruz has spent his life fighting for the Constitution."
Cruz asked voters to imagine a president who might put a "left-wing nutjob on the [Supreme] Court" and thereby "tear down our civil liberties, tear down our religious liberties, tear down our constitutional rights."
"That's the consequence of getting it wrong at 7 o'clock tonight," said Cruz.
As conservative pastor Darran Whiting watched -- offering an "amen" or a "yessir" or a "yes" when Cruz said something particularly resonant -- Cruz asked voters to consider what would happen if they ignored the advice of national and local religious leaders. What if they split the vote? The voters, many of them cradling small children, were told that it was not be personal if they decided against another caucus vote for their old favorites.
"The last two winners of the Iowa caucuses were good men," said Cruz, referring to Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. "Both of them came out of Iowa with a win, but no money, no infrastructure, no path to winning the nomination." Cruz's campaign, meanwhile, had "nearly as much money in the bank as Jeb Bush plus Marco Rubio plus Chris Christie plus John Kasich," enough to turn an Iowa win into "a head of steam" going into the New Hampshire primary.
"That ain't never happened!" said Cruz. "The conservative is supposed to be broke!"
Cruz, who spent nearly two weeks trading barbs with Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, dealt with them briskly in Marion. He mentioned Rubio only during a six-question Q&A, after a voter wearing a T-shirt from the pro-Cruz super PAC asked him to explain the "voter violation" mailers that had been intended to drive up turnout but were condemned by rival campaigns.
"You know, Marco Rubio was on TV yesterday, expressing great outrage that the Cruz campaign would send out something like this," said Cruz. "His outrage was less than honest... his campaign sent out nearly the same mailer."
And Trump's name was mentioned first by Cruz, as he contrasted his love of Iowa -- ethanol questions aside -- with the mogul's populist conquest.
"He said, if he doesn't win Iowa, it was all 'a big fat expensive waste of time,'" sad Cruz. "I remember being stunned by that. If someone wants to win Iowa, he should show the respect to come in front of you and answer your questions."
Adopting a line that had been honed by Glenn Beck, a last-minute endorser who spent the weekend campaigning with Cruz, the Texan asked voters not to trust a vague pledge to make the country "great" again.
We the people will make America great again when we remember why it was why we were great in the first place," said Cruz.
That launched a standing ovation, with more than one voter waving a leather-bound Bible in the air.
"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning," said Cruz, quoting from the book of Psalms. "Morning starts at 7 o'clock tonight."