Ted Cruz faces must-win situation in Texas primary

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Ted CruzTed CruzStephen Hawking: Trump a 'demagogue' Dems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals Meet the billionaire donor behind Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker MORE faces a must-win situation on Super Tuesday with his home-state primary in Texas.

The conservative senator has to win Texas to continue in the Republican presidential race. A loss in his home state would be deeply embarrassing, and would lead to calls for him to end his campaign.

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“If Ted Cruz cannot win in his backyard, he will have a very difficult time finding a pathway forward,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, political science professor at the University of Houston. “Texas is critical for him not only in terms of the delegate chase but also in terms of the optics of winning the state tailor-made for your campaign."

Polls suggest Cruz is primed for a victory.

He leads in the RealClearPolitics average of polls by 7 points and a survey from earlier this week showed him with a 15-point edge on second-place Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump slams 'totally biased' judge in Trump U case Ex-pharma CEO Martin Shkreli: I didn’t endorse Trump Five things Clinton needs to do to win the California primary MORE

“Texas will reward Ted Cruz,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) said after Trump defeated Cruz and Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio apologized to Trump for 'small hands' crack Sunday shows preview: Bernie soldiers on Fla. Senate candidate bashes Rubio MORE (R-Fla.) to win the Nevada caucuses.

“One thing the mainstream media hasn't done a good job of covering is that early voting has started already. By the time the Trumpster finds Texas, half of the votes may well have been cast,” he added.

Still, Trump’s domination of the media could leave Cruz with little margin for error.

One poll this week showed Trump, who is leading the GOP race nationally, within a point of Cruz in Texas.

While Trump’s attention has been somewhat diverted this weekend to Rubio, he’s continued to lambaste Cruz as a liar, an attack that may have injured the Texas senator.

Texas is clearly the biggest prize of Super Tuesday.

It will award 155 delegates — the second most at stake in the country. Delegates will be allocated proportionally statewide and by congressional district, meaning several candidates are likely to win delegates.

Candidates must reach a 20 percent threshold statewide to be eligible for any of the at-large delegates. But if they are able to reach that threshold in a congressional district, they’ll be awarded one delegate. Texas has 36 congressional districts and each one doles out three delegates.

This scenario gives Rubio a chance to siphon some of the delegates in areas of Texas where there are more moderate voters. Some strategists say Rubio could perform well with Hispanics in some of the southern Texas districts.

Cruz is hoping for a convincing win, but strategists say Cruz is unlikely to get more than 50 percent of the vote given the presence of Trump and Rubio in the race.

It’s also unclear if just winning Texas will be enough for Cruz if Trump cleans up in the other 10 states holding GOP contests.

“This should be his best day of his campaign, and obviously once you get past March 1, you start to get into states that are probably not as naturally welcoming for him,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak.

Super Tuesday, also known as the SEC primary, was long seen as a positive for the Cruz campaign. It’s called the SEC primary because a number of states with college football teams in that conference will hold contests on March 1.

Cruz has touted his strength with evangelical voters, who could be a force in Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. Yet Cruz lost out to Trump for South Carolina’s evangelical voters last week, and there’s no guarantee he’ll best the novice politician on Tuesday.

The Texas senator appears to be taking no chances.

He’s landed influential endorsements from current Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who dropped out of the presidential race.

The super-PACs aligned with Cruz are also beefing up ahead of Super Tuesday in the hopes that the Texas senator can have a string of good performances that can keep in the race for delegates.

The Keep the Promise super-PACs announced Friday a $2.4 million ad buy that includes TV, radio, and digital ads that will air in eight Super Tuesday states including Texas and several southern states.

Further complicating matters for Cruz is Rubio, who wants to make it a two-man race with Trump.

That increases the importance that Cruz pull out a strong win in his home state — especially since polls show Rubio behind Trump in his own home state of Florida. That state’s primary is March 15.

“He [Cruz] wants to come out of March 1 as the unmistakable sole challenger to Trump, and Texas gives him a chance to do that,” Mackowiak said. “But he’s got to do more than just Texas. Texas by itself is not enough.”

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