Ted Cruz sees slow and steady path to 2016 presidential victory

Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE is playing a slow and steady campaign, but for the firebrand Texas senator, that doesn’t translate into being quiet. 

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In the past week alone, he has stolen supporters from fellow Republican presidential candidate Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Lawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program MORE (Ky.), won the rousing support of evangelicals and had to be shut down by Senate leaders for trying to complicate efforts on a short-term funding extension with a protest vote against Planned Parenthood funding.  

That reflects Cruz's efforts to try to emerge as the consensus anti-establishment candidate if and when the top three outsider candidates, and his biggest rivals, peter out. 

Rolling out Libertarian supporters who previously backed Sen. Paul's father in his presidential bids is part of Cruz's aim to go after his rivals on their home field.  

“Our theory has always been that you need to crush your bracket first in order to advance,” Rick Tyler, a Cruz spokesperson, said, comparing the primary slog to the annual college basketball tournament.

"We don't want to break out. ... We are moving slow and steady." 

Tyler sees the GOP primary electorate as four distinct “brackets” of voters — libertarian, evangelical, Tea Party, and establishment candidates — and it’s clear that Cruz continues to make a play for all but the latter. 

Cruz’s “Liberty Leaders for Cruz” coalition is made up of mostly former Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) supporters, a direct affront to Sen. Rand Paul. 

And the attack has come as Paul’s support has waned in the polls and amid reports that he’s shifted some emphasis toward fundraising for his Senate reelection.  

Cruz’s endorsements prompted a major rebuke from Paul on Fox News Radio on Tuesday, where he bashed Cruz’s legislative record and said that his “lack of personal relationships” have contributed to a downfall in the Senate.

Cruz has already made a strong play for the evangelical and Tea Party blocs — jumping into the race as a Tea Party favorite, he immediately made a play for Christian conservative voters with an announcement from the evangelical Liberty University. 

Indicative of the fruits of that play, a strong win at last weekend’s Values Voter Summit straw poll, with almost double the support of second-place finisher Ben Carson and more than double the support for former Gov. Mike Huckabee (Ark.).  

GOP strategists say he’s in a solid position to be the first choice of other candidates' supporters once their favorite drops out. 

“If you look at where the Carson vote goes, the Huckabee vote eventually goes, the [Rick] Santorum vote, or the Rand Paul vote eventually goes, Cruz is very well positioned to be the default choice of supporters of a lot of other candidates,” said Matt Mackowiak, an Austin-based GOP strategist. 

While Cruz has remained relatively stable at the polls, he’s well behind the trio of outsider candidates at the top of national polls — billionaire Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE, retired neurosurgeon Carson, and former businesswoman Carly Fiorina.

Although Cruz may be in a good spot to scoop up former supporters of Trump and Carson, it’s unclear if or when they’ll fade with enough time to give Cruz the chance to win that support.  

GOP Strategist Doug Heye, a fellow at the Harvard University Institute of Politics, praised the “smart” strategy of Cruz’s campaign, but acknowledged that it comes with significant risk, thanks to the deep pockets of the Trump and Carson campaigns.

“It obviously gets complicated, doesn’t it? I still believe that eventually Trump will fade, but I think Carson, too. … If you are Cruz, he’s clearly betting that’s going to happen,” Heye said.  

“[But] if you are drafting behind somebody, it means you are behind them,” he added.

Cruz’s allies say they aren’t worried, as they see him as the outsider running with an insider strategy.

Kellyanne Conway, the president of the pro-Cruz super-PAC Keep the Promise 1, told The Hill that while Republicans have made their preference for an outsider clear, Americans at large haven’t sent someone without any political experience to the White House since President Eisenhower.

“In the top six or seven, who is the outsider that can play in the insider lane?” she asked rhetorically. 

“Republican voters have proven that they want to send a message. But ultimately, they want to send somebody to the White House.”

Outsider candidates have won each of the last two Iowa caucuses — former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012 and Huckabee in 2008 — but both fizzled soon after, when the late momentum couldn’t overcome the lack of deeply rooted organizations across the country.

The Cruz campaign has made a point in touting organization well beyond the early nominating states, kicking off an SEC primary bus tour last month and continuing to roll out state campaign chairs.

“Cruz has the potential to have a Santorum or Huckabee-like trajectory in Iowa, but I also think he’s playing a much longer game,” Mackowiak said.  

That long game includes a likely victory in Texas, a state that is home to 155 delegates and one where Cruz won statewide in his 2012 Senate election over a much better funded establishment conservative. 

“It’s about delegate math, and in a field that’s as crowded as this is, those candidates who can stay in the longest and pick off delegates as states go from winner take all to proportional becomes more and more important,” Heye said.

The long-haul strategy isn’t novel; it’s what leading candidates do each cycle and a strategy employed by 2016’s well-funded establishment candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. 

But Cruz has the money to do so from outside the establishment lane. He raised more hard money than any other candidate in the second quarter, and trailed only Bush in super-PAC money over the first six months. 

Tyler wouldn’t reveal the campaign's fundraising figure for the quarter that closed on Wednesday, but foreshadowed a strong result that he said would forge the “dividing line” between those who are built to last and those who aren’t.

And while Conway’s super-PAC doesn’t have to report its donations until January, she’s confident that both the official campaign and its allies will have ample resources to last.  

She said that “2016 is a process of elimination nomination and if you are built for the war of attrition.” 

“If you are still standing one, two, four months from now, you’re in a good position.”