Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign is moving hard into Florida, where the senator from Texas hopes to knock out rival Sen. Marco Rubio and position himself as the only last alternative to front-runner Donald Trump.
Cruz’s campaign announced Friday that it is opening 10 field offices in Florida, which holds a Republican primary March 15. Trump has a big lead in the polls there, but Cruz’s campaign thinks it can increase its support in the state by appealing to conservatives and positioning the candidate as an alternative to Trump.
“We recognize that it’s an uphill battle for us, but it becomes a lot easier if we can consolidate the anti-Trump vote,” said Manny Roman, the chairman of Cruz’s campaign in Miami-Dade County.
Cruz’s team thinks that Florida Republicans lean conservative, and the senator can swoop in as a high-minded alternative while Rubio and Trump engage in a war of insults. Cruz’s campaign said it will run an “aggressive” ad campaign in the state.
Cruz is also expected to highlight his Cuban American heritage in Miami, where his campaign has been putting surrogates on Spanish-language television. Cruz’s father, Rafael, who was born in Cuba, has campaigned and met with pastors in the state.
The Cruz campaign is taking direct aim at Rubio’s relatively sparse Florida operation and polls showing Rubio sharply trailing Trump, which one Cruz spokesman likened to a “burning dumpster fire.” Roman said Cruz’s campaign wants to siphon off Rubio’s support — and argued that the senator should drop out of the race.
“We’re making the case to his supporters: ‘We agree with you, and Marco Rubio agrees, too, that he doesn’t want Donald Trump to be the nominee,’ ” Roman said. “ ‘Save yourself the embarrassment of losing your home state and let us consolidate the anti-Trump vote.’ ”
In addition, the Cruz campaign is contemplating ramping up its efforts in Ohio — which also has a March 15 primary — in a bid to damage Ohio Gov. John Kasich, according to a person familiar with internal discussions. Cruz’s campaign declined to comment on any plans for the state.
Together, the efforts make up a high-risk strategy to winnow the field and position Cruz as the last alternative to Trump. It is an approach that even some Cruz allies fear could backfire and aid in Trump’s rise.
But Cruz’s advisers say privately their modeling shows that even if Trump wins both Florida and Ohio, the senator from Texas has a better chance of securing the nomination than with Rubio and Kasich in the race. They are being bolstered by a surge of donations, including major contributions to a network of super PACs allied with his campaign.
A number of those groups consolidated into one large super PAC on Friday. The Trusted Leadership PAC will streamline a constellation of groups supporting Cruz, and they plan to raise money aggressively.
One of the groups now under the umbrella just spent $91,000 to run ads in Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana ahead of Saturday’s nominating contests in those states, and will drop another $75,000 on social media ads.
Kellyanne Conway, president of one of the super PACs that was consolidated, said the group had planned to stay out of Florida but now may go in.
“On the one hand, it would be easy to stay with our original plan, which is: ‘Don’t spend a penny in Florida because it’s winner take all,’ ” she said. But, she said, “we’re starting to wonder if playing in Florida is probably a great idea because Rubio is doing so poorly there.”
Cruz’s campaign had a clear plan since day one of the campaign: attempt to coalesce the support of conservatives and gobble up as many delegates as possible in March, including a sweep of Southern states in the Super Tuesday contests. But Cruz lost all but two of those states — Oklahoma and Texas — to Trump.
The campaign is now pivoting to states where it thinks it can do well in the next 11 days, including Kansas and Maine, which Cruz has visited recently. The two states hold caucuses, which reward superior organization, and Cruz has spent time and dispatched resources there. He also plans to campaign in Idaho on Saturday, where he has the support of Rep. Raúl R. Labrador and hopes to gain the support of libertarian-minded voters.
“While the map has changed, so have the dynamics of the race. The field is narrowing and winnowing down. It’s a two-man race,” Cruz spokeswoman Alice Stewart said. “Cruz is the only one who has a chance to win.”
Cruz is trying to contain Trump by uniting the Republican party and broadening his appeal to voters who want to stop Trump or are having second thoughts about voting for him.
Cruz has been making overt appeals to people who support other candidates, imploring them to support his candidacy because there is “only one campaign that has repeatedly beaten Donald Trump, and there is only one campaign that can and will beat Donald Trump.”
At the same time, Cruz is playing up his insurgent reputation, slamming Trump for saying during Thursday’s debate that he plans to be flexible on policy.
“ ‘Flexible’ is a Washington code word that he’s going to stick it to the people,” Cruz said Friday in Orono, Maine.
Cruz has been striking a more populist tone in recent days as a way to appeal to Trump’s supporters, bringing up a media report that Trump hired foreign workers instead of Americans and painting illegal immigration as an economic issue that will hurt lower-income Americans.
“You know who isn’t hurt by illegal immigration?” Cruz asked in Maine. “Rich people.”
Unlike Rubio and Kasich, Cruz said, he does not want a brokered convention, calling the idea the “pipe dream of the Washington establishment” that would cause a “revolt” among voters.
“If you want to beat Donald Trump, here’s how you do it,” Cruz said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in suburban Maryland on Friday. “You beat Donald Trump with the voters.”