By a safe margin, Ted Cruz won the Republican Iowa caucuses on February 1st. His win is no surprise in a state with a strong evangelical population and also one in which Mike Huckabee won the caucuses in 2008. However, the question remains as to whether Ted Cruz can sustain the momentum he gained through his Iowa win in New Hampshire. I think that there is a strong chance that Cruz’s campaign will suffer as the primaries move into the next round of less religious states. These states proved to be the downfall of Huckabee in 2008, and I predict that Cruz will lose his position at the top of the Republican race in New Hampshire, though he will do better than most people expect due to his ability to sway voters.
Outside of states like Iowa that have a high percentage of fervent evangelicals, Ted Cruz will have to work much harder to appeal to voters. In New Hampshire, there is a much broader representation of the different factions of the Republican party. Between the establishment Republicans supporting Marco Rubio, the pissed off Republicans supporting Donald Trump, and the religious conservatives backing Ted Cruz, the New Hampshire Republican race is shaping up to be a close fight. Unlike in Iowa, Cruz will need to reach out beyond his evangelical base for votes, as New Hampshire has a much smaller population of religious conservatives.
I witnessed some of Ted Cruz’s outreach to wider groups of New Hampshire voters at a town hall meeting a few weeks ago. The meeting was held in a middle school cafeteria, and it was packed with people. Hundreds of people jammed into the cafeteria to hear Cruz speak, and those who couldn’t fit were seated in an overflow room. The crowd was surprisingly excited about Cruz for a state with low levels of evangelical voting. Despite what people say about Cruz being horrible to work and get along with, he does have a talent for working a crowd. Telling jokes and answering questions with passion, Cruz got the town hall crowd riled up in support of what he was saying. Booing and clapping and shouting “Amen!” at just the right moments, the crowd hung on Cruz’s every word and responded to his talking points with gusto.
Given Cruz’s ability to appeal to Republicans in one on one settings, I believe it is still going to be a close race on the Republican side in New Hampshire. In spite of missing his evangelical base, I’ve seen Ted Cruz’s ability to persuade voters and I think that this will carry him through to super Tuesday. Cruz may not win New Hampshire or other states that have lower percentages of evangelical voters, but I think he is going to come pretty darn close, thanks to his incredible talent on the stump.