Shortly after Sen. Marco Rubio bowed out of the presidential race Tuesday night, his GOP rival for the nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz, cranked up the volume on his call to those who had supported his fellow Cuban-American to switch over to backing him.
Cruz increasingly has been pressing supporters of Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich in recent weeks to get behind him instead. Cruz also made not-so-subtle appeals to others in the GOP field to drop out, citing the higher numbers of votes and delegates he had received in the primaries.
His basic argument was that he, more than they, had a real shot at derailing billionaire Donald Trump from his steady climb to the GOP nomination.
So after Rubio withdrew from the race, upon losing the primary in his home state of Florida, Cruz pounced.
"To those who supported Marco, who worked so hard, we welcome you with open arms, with gratitude, and with hope and with a positive vision together for our great nation," Cruz said from his campaign rally in Houston. "Starting tomorrow morning every Republican has a clear choice. Only two campaigns have a plausible path to the nomination, ours and Donald Trump's.”
“Nobody else has any mathematical possibility whatsoever... And going forward, the choice is straightforward: Do you want a candidate who shares your values or a candidate who has spent decades opposing your values?"
Cruz did not win a state in Tuesday’s primaries, but overall so far, he is second to Trump in the number of contests and delegates won. Cruz has 407 delegates, Trump has 652 and Kasich has 146. To be the GOP nominee, a candidate needs 1,237 delegates.
Cruz had declared war on Rubio in the days leading up to the Florida primary, but after Rubio withdrew, he lavished praise on his fellow senator.
“Marco is a friend, he’s a colleague, he ran a strong, optimistic campaign,” Cruz said. “His passion inspired me. His presidential campaign inspired millions across the nation.”
What Rubio’s backers and donors will do now is anyone’s guess. Many are firmly opposed to Trump. Kasich’s chances are slim. Cruz is no more endearing to many than Trump, but for those intent on voting Republican, he may be the only choice to undermine the real estate mogul’s chances of accruing even more delegates, experts say.
Perhaps in a sign of the ambivalence many Rubio supporters now feel, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who had endorsed Rubio and appeared with him on the campaign trail, on Wednesday said she would “personally support” Cruz, but not endorse him.
The next two states to hold primaries will show whether Rubio’s withdrawal sends more votes to Cruz, according to the Wall Street Journal. Those state are Arizona and Utah, which will hold primaries on March 22.
They restrict voting just to registered party members, which is seen as being a help to Cruz.
Trump has done better in states that allow Democrats and Independents to vote in GOP primaries. Some expect Cruz, who is a firebrand conservative, to tone down his rhetoric in the hope of broadening his supporters. Rubio had been the favorite of the so-called GOP establishment, who saw him as easier to work with as well as the one with the best chance of appealing to a cross-section of the electorate in the general election.
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