I traveled to Oskaloosa on Tuesday to catch up with Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Cruz is on a three-day tour of Iowa. It is the most extensive tour of the state he has done since announcing his candidacy back in April.
Cruz packed the Smokey Row coffee house that sits on the west side of the town’s iconic square. There is just something that I love about southeast Iowa towns. Oskaloosa and Albia are two of my favorites. Traveling with Cruz was his wife, Heidi, who, when introducing her husband, said it was a “great honor” to be campaigning with him. I thought that seems a little odd, but maybe that’s just me.
It was a standard Cruz speech. I’ve heard most of the jokes before. The issue set was very familiar. He did say one thing that made me scratch my head. He opposes President Obama’s plan to take in Syrian refugees. That’s not new, but what he said in Oskaloosa on Tuesday was that he would not take in any Muslim refugees, but would take in Christian refugees. That’s a litmus test that will create all sorts of trouble for Cruz. Just ask Dr. Ben Carson.
Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, responded to my tweet about the Cruz’s statement asking, “What about Druze refugees? And does his opposition to Muslin refugees even include Alawites?” The Alawites are a religious group that follows a branch of Shia Islam, but tend to conceal their faith because of persecution over the years. The Druze faith is an Abrahamic religion that adherents do not consider to be Muslim.
This is the classic case of a presidential candidate saying something that an audience in Oskaloosa, Iowa, is going to agree with, but the position they expose is not very well thought out. This is where a candidate like Rick Santorum, who has a different position than the rest of the GOP field on the refugee issue, has a far superior understanding of the Middle East and foreign policy in general than Cruz. Santorum may be long winded and his speeches void of applause lines and laughter, but they are chock-full of well thought out policy positions.
As I was waiting to cross the street to go back to my car after the event, I overheard two young men scoff at Cruz’s Muslim remark that was made a half hour earlier – proof that even in Oskaloosa, Iowa, such remarks hit a nerve with some, particularly younger voters.
I was also on the look out for that vaunted campaign organization the Cruz campaign has been bragging about. I have no doubt that Cruz has grassroots supporters across the state, but there were not signs of a well-organized campaign in Oskaloosa. The Cruz entourage filled the Chevy Suburban they were traveling in. There was also a staffer holding a parking spot right up front for when they arrived and a field staffer with a southern accent who hung signs and tried to get people to sign up on a clip board.
To her credit, Heidi Cruz, helped man the door with a clipboard after the event for a while. The mechanics of a finely-tuned caucus campaign is not rocket science, but interaction with the crowd by the campaign staff was lacking. A candidate will always be their best sales person, so when they are visiting a community, the campaign staff needs to be aggressive in getting people to sign up. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that the caucuses were a year away, not in three and a half months.
What the Cruz campaign does have going for itself is the support of the workers at Campaign HQ, which is headquartered in Brooklyn, Iowa, and has an office in Oskaloosa. Campaign HQ handles telemarketing fundraising for the Cruz campaign. Nicole Schlinger and her team are no strangers to political campaigns in Iowa. It’s a good-sized operation and should be helpful to the Cruz campaign when February 1st rolls around. More than 20 Campaign HQ staffers from Oskaloosa watched Cruz from the balcony of Smokey Row.
I have always recognized the potential Cruz has in Iowa, but I’m not sold on his ability to capitalize on it. The way I see things today is that Cruz is being squeezed by Dr. Ben Carson on one side, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on the other. In time, the support Carson enjoys from social conservatives will diminish as his opponents begin to layout his stated positions on a number of issues. Jindal is more problematic.
The campaign Jindal is running in Iowa is very similar to that of Cruz. Jindal not only talks tough of social issues, but he’s also been the most aggressive candidate in the race. Cruz likes to tell voters to evaluate the candidates in the race by looking at when they have stood and fought.
I’ve never thought that was a good argument when competing with the likes of Santorum, who ushered through the last socially conservative legislation that passed in the U.S. Senate, or Jindal, who not only has defunded Planned Parenthood in his state, but has also offered to show Iowa Governor Terry Branstad how to do it in Iowa. Even on Cruz’s signature issue of religious liberty, it was Mike Huckabee who capitalized on the Kim Davis saga in Kentucky.
The only place that Cruz has fought and won during the span of his presidential campaign is on the fundraising circuit. Don’t get me wrong, money and perceived viability are very important in a presidential politics, but it is the one thing that the voters he’s after typically don’t give a rip about.
It’s going to be an interesting final three months. While the national media is chanting, “Here comes Cruz,” I see a campaign with a number of obstacles in Iowa.
Want to read another take on Cruz that I think is spot on? Check out Sarah Beckman’s article over at the IowaStartingLine.com
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