He seemed to be in trouble soon after riding high in voter polls at the end of last year and winning the first-in-the-nation presidential contest in Iowa.
Ted Cruz bounced back strong on Super Tuesday, winning Texas and Oklahoma, bringing to three the number of primaries he has won.
His Super Tuesday victories upended the view – for the moment, at least – of the GOP fight for the nomination as a two-man race between real estate mogul Donald Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to a race between Cruz and Trump.
At a press conference in Texas, Cruz expressed pride in his victories and urged his GOP rivals, without naming them – Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Ben Carson, who did less well overall on Super Tuesday – to drop out. If they did not drop out, Cruz said, it would help Trump clinch the GOP nomination.
“Tonight this campaign enters a new phase,” Cruz said to the raucous crowd at his speech. “We began with 17 Republican candidates, through the first four states, the race narrowed considerably…And after tonight we have seen that our campaign is the only campaign that has beat, than can beat, and that will beat Donald Trump.”
He urged “the candidates who have not yet won a state” or won enough delegates to drop out and “consider…coming together” behind his candidacy.
Cruz, 45, also urged supporters of other GOP candidates to get behind him and help him beat Donald Trump.
Cruz supporters felt energized by his strong performance.
“Ted Cruz’s strong performance on Super Tuesday, anchored by his victory in his home state of Texas, proves he is the trusted conservative who is ready to defeat Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton,” said Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund Chair Jenny Beth Martin in a statement. “Grassroots conservatives and Tea Party supporters trust that Ted is the person to balance our budget and lead us to a debt-free future, repeal Obamacare and secure our borders. His knowledge of the Constitution and his willingness to defend it, no matter the political cost, proves he would be the best president to replace the great Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.”
Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Tuesday that the only way to stop Trump from becoming the GOP nominee and winning the general election may be to rally behind Cruz.
"Ted Cruz is not by favorite by any means," Graham, a former candidate, told CBS News. "But we may be in a position where rallying around Ted Cruz is the only way to stop Donald Trump and I'm not so sure that would work."
Graham called both Trump and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton "crazy" and said the Republican party is bound to lose to Clinton if an alternative to Trump is not found.
The other GOP candidates have said they do not intend to drop out. Kasich has said he is counting on winning his home state of Ohio, and Rubio has said he is sure he will win the crucial state of Florida, though Trump has said that polls indicate he has stronger support there than the junior senator.
To be sure, it remains an uphill battle for Cruz in his pursuit of the GOP nomination. Trump has won most of the primaries or come in second, and recent polls show that some 49 percent of GOP voters support him.
The billionaire Trump is getting support from a cross-section of GOP voters. In recent days, he won the endorsement of Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, an immigration hard liner whose endorsement Cruz had sought.
In a press conference from Florida, Trump congratulated Cruz, a one-time ally earlier in their campaigns, before they found themselves in fierce competition for the nomination.
Rubio had come in second in many of the primaries before Super Tuesday, seemingly recovering after a bruising showing in New Hampshire and a dismal debate performance in that state. Rubio did win Minnesota.
At a press conference late Tuesday, Trump said Rubio was “the big loser of the night.”
In an interview on Fox News on Tuesday night, Rubio downplayed Super Tuesday results, saying it was only a part of the primary season and that he planned to aggressively pursue support in all of the states.
And in an e-mail to supporters on Tuesday, Rubio’s campaign vowed to keep fighting.
“This is going to be a long campaign,” the e-mail said, “and we are not going to hand over our party to a dangerous con artist.”
Includes reporting by The Associated Press.
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