The road to the 2016 Republican nomination for president took Ted Cruz to Mike Huckabee country Wednesday as part of the Texas senator’s tour of early Southern primary states. Cruz told a crowd of 300 in Little Rock that Arkansas is in play.
“We’ve got incredible teams on the ground in Iowa, and New Hampshire, and South Carolina. But then boom, 10 days later is Super Tuesday. It’s the so-called SEC Primary,” said Cruz to a smattering of whoops and hollers. “I’ve got to tell you, Arkansas and Texas, we agree on just about everything – well, except football.”
Huckabee, now a resident of Florida, has seen national poll numbers falter since the first GOP debate held last week by Fox News while Senator Cruz has seen a bump in support. Huckabee’s position in what he considers his home state was also apparent in a poll this month by the Log Cabin Democrat that showed Donald Trump edging out Huckabee in Arkansas.
While most of Arkansas’s elected Republicans, including Governor Asa Hutchinson, are endorsing Huckabee there were a handful of state lawmakers on hand in Little Rock to back Cruz. State Representative Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville), serving as the Cruz campaign’s state co-chair, said he knows it could be tough to gain inroads against Hucakbee but he thinks Cruz is viable in Arkansas.
“If Mike Huckabee’s still on the ballot in March he’s going to be hard to beat in Arkansas, though looking at the news of late it may be possible. But, if he’s not on the ballot then Arkansas’s up for grabs and it looks to me like Arkansas would be a Ted Cruz state,” said Ballinger.
Cruz did not mention Huckabee but he did make a slew of jabs at the 17 person GOP presidential primary field. He said Republicans will lose if they nominate “Democratic-lite,” a reference to 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Senator Cruz offered his most strongly worded rebuke of President Obama in relation to the nuclear deal. Cruz linked President Obama, radical Islam, and Jeb Bush.
“If this deal goes through the Obama administration will become the world’s leading state financier of radical Islamic terrorism,” Cruz said to very little crowd reaction. “In response to that President Obama….said ‘you can’t say things like that, that rhetoric is too much. Stop, don’t say that.’ Sadly, it wasn’t just President Obama. Mitt Romney sent a tweet…Jeb Bush, likewise said don’t use that kind of language, that’s too far.”
Cruz’s anti-establishment reputation resonated with those in attendance. High school student Austin Anderson traveled from Conway to hear Cruz speak outside the Republican Party of Arkansas’s headquarters
“I really like that he’s such a bulldog on everything. He doesn’t back down like most politicians, and I like when he’s called people out in Congress,” he said.
Meryl Fulmer felt much the same.
“He’s a fire, he stands against the RHINOs. That’s what I want, a man to stand against the establishment. We voted a bunch of Republican in, what do they do? They play patty cake with Obama, I want no more patty cake. I want a man who stands,” she said. “Ted Cruz is a man that stands.”
Cruz is making three stops in Arkansas on his trip from Tennessee to Oklahoma. He's visited several other Southern states since the Fox News debate.
Arkansas’s legislature voted earlier this year to move the state’s primary from May to early March. The decision put the primary contest near the beginning of the national primary calendar rather than near the end.