RAYMOND, N.H. -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) squeezed into the Tuckaway Tavern, past a wall of supporters, and into a waiting mob of reporters. In his final press conference before New Hampshire polls opened, Cruz explained how he could lose here but move right along.
"We never viewed any of these states as a must-win," said Cruz. "We were going to compete hard in each of the first four; we believed we could do well. We were obviously very gratified to win Iowa; we didn’t think we had to win Iowa, but winning is better than losing, no doubt about that. So we are here, competing in New Hampshire for the votes, and at this point it’s a turnout game."
Cruz's victory in Iowa -- a "great victory," as he put it at the top of every New Hampshire speech -- was supposed to resonate in New Hampshire. If it has, both Cruz's campaign and his rivals have guarded that secret. Cruz's crowds have not grown noticeably since before his Iowa win. In the average of New Hampshire polls collected by RealClearPolitics, Cruz has gained just 1.5 percentage points since Iowa, moving from 11.5 percent to 13 percent support. In Raymond, Cruz was more interested in suggesting that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) could tie Donald Trump than he was in talking up his chances.
"Fourth place would be a victory," said Bill O'Brien, the state representative and former speaker of the House who co-chairs Cruz's campaign here. "Look, if a few candidates are bunched together in the teens, there might not be a big difference between second and fifth place."
Any result north of 10 percent would secure delegates for Cruz, and the Texan has benefited from an "expectations game" that focused on Rubio and the trio of governors or former governors making a stand here -- Govs. Chris Christie (New Jersey) and John Kasich (Ohio) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush. But until last week, Cruz was buying into that game. Just hours before the Iowa caucuses, Cruz told a last-minute rally at a Cedar Rapids-area church that an Iowa win could give him Reagan-like momentum. He would not, he said, turn out like Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum, who took the caucuses but then hit a granite wall in 2008 and 2012.
"Both of them came out of Iowa with a win, but no money, no infrastructure, no path for going forward and winning the nomination, but we're in a dramatically different position today," Cruz said. "We win tonight in Iowa, and we go with a head of steam to New Hampshire, where right now we're in second place. The conservative isn't supposed to be in second place in New Hampshire! That's where we are right now."
In Raymond, Cruz argued that his campaign was out-organizing everyone in the coming "SEC primary," the March 1 contests in most of the deep red South and a few caucus states. But a middling New Hampshire performance could raise questions about how Cruz's message travels outside of his comfort zones. While he tweaked his stump speech here, including more references to eminent domain and more explicit appeals to libertarian voters, Cruz's stump closely resembled his stump from Iowa.
That did not always sell in one of America's less socially conservative states. At times, Cruz's pitch to New Hampshire felt like he was feeding bacon-wrapped McRibs to a vegetarian. In Peterborough, just blocks away from a non-denominational church that flew a gay rights rainbow flag, Cruz promised to end the assault on "religious liberty" and warned of a day when crosses would be removed from the graves of dead soldiers. He answered one (possibly misheard) question about LGBT rights with an unrelated riff on economic inequality; later, he responded to a question about transgender rights by criticizing the Obama administration's push for gender-neutral bathrooms in schools."
"Even [my daughter] Catherine, 5 years old, understands the difference between a boy and a girl," said Cruz.
Nothing about the Cruz road show was especially tailored to New Hampshire. The pre-roll video that played before speeches featured remarks from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a key western Iowa endorser less known in the other 49 states. Its interviews with former Ron Paul supporters -- a narrow but active constituency that Cruz wanted to court -- were all conducted in Iowa. Iowan or Southern audience often cheered and clapped along to Cruz's closing theme song, "When the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly." New Hampshire audiences stayed seated or milled around.
The last Republican president, George W. Bush, had lost New Hampshire on the way to the Republican nomination. But Cruz, who rarely mentions the president he worked to elect, could not resist reminding New Hampshire voters that they had given a key 1980 victory to Ronald Reagan. He told the audience that he had reunited "the Reagan coalition" with his Iowa win. He mentioned that Reagan had opened his Bible to 2 Chronicles 7:14 when taking the oath of office. He often closed by saying that "it took Jimmy Carter to give us Ronald Reagan," a line that dates back, at least, to his aborted 2010 run for attorney general of Texas.
Cruz repeated that line, in part, because his entire theory of 2016 differs from the Republicans who want the party to retool or moderate. His vision is of a transformed electorate, with millions of new evangelical voters storming the polls.
That vision seemed cloudy in New Hampshire, but Cruz turned on whatever klieg lights he could. In Peterborough, after a precocious child asked him a question about why Hillary Clinton "waffles so much," the Texan invited him onstage to tell a story. In 1980, a kid from Houston watched Ronald Reagan win the presidency. He was captivated as the media ridiculed Reagan, insisted he was too conservative to win, and was proven gloriously wrong.
"I gotta tell ya, at age 9, seeing Ronald Reagan -- it was inspiring," said Cruz. "I was a pretty weird kid."