Cruz in S.C. rallies ‘grass-roots’ army

Gavin Jackson/Staff Texas Sen. Ted Cruz speaks to more than 700 supporters at the TD Convention Center in Greenville on Tuesday night after winning the Iowa Republican Caucus the day before.

GREENVILLE – Sen. Ted Cruz told hundreds of people on Tuesday that the South Carolina primary will be a repeat of his Iowa caucus victory, despite the usually inverse relationship of the two early voting states.

“South Carolina this year is going to ensure the next Republican nominee and the next president of the United States is a true and proven conservative,” Cruz said to applause.

Within 24 hours of winning the Iowa vote, Cruz rallied supporters in New Hampshire and then in the Upstate, where more than 700 people turned a TD Convention Center ballroom into a standing-room only event.

“The way we did in Iowa is how we’re working to do it in New Hampshire, is how we’re working to do it South Carolina, which is empowering the grass roots, an army,” Cruz said while calling for a stronger military, abolishing the IRS and restoring the Christian values of America.

The rally came hours after U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan publicly endorsed Cruz. In a prerecorded video message shown to supporters, Duncan said the Texas senator “shares our South Carolina values.”

“It’s critical that we as conservatives unite behind someone like Ted,” Duncan said in the video. “If we don’t nominate a conservative who can contrast with Hillary (Clinton) on issues like amnesty or health care, we’re likely to lose the White House again.”

Political observers predicted any presidential endorsement from Duncan would carry some weight in his conservative Upstate district but probably wouldn’t be a game-changer coming from a two term congressman.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, thinks otherwise. King, a political figure who was in part responsible for Cruz’s Iowa victory, sees Duncan as his South Carolina equivalent.

“Jeff Duncan has performed so utterly well,” King told The Post and Courier earlier in the day in Washington. “He has emerged as the most principled leader that South Carolina has in its delegation.”

Duncan joins his local GOP counterparts, state Sen. Lee Bright and state Reps. Bill Chumley, Wendy Nanney and Garry Smith, who endorsed Cruz last year. Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, announced his endorsement minutes before Cruz took the stage.

Clemson University political science professor David Woodard said that with Cruz’s Iowa victory, the Republican nomination is now a three-way race, naming Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and businessman Donald Trump. But Woodard said South Carolina remains Trump’s to lose.

“History says don’t take too much consolation out of Iowa, there are a number of times the winner of Iowa didn’t do well here,” said Woodard, a longtime Republican strategist. “What Cruz has to do is convince voters he can win in the fall. That’s something he hasn’t been able to do. He’s been trying to outstrip his other Republicans.”

Woodard will publish poll results ahead of the Feb. 20 GOP primary and the Democratic primary a week later.

Since late November, Cruz has maintained a second-place position in polls, with a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll putting his support at 20 percent of likely GOP voters in South Carolina or about 16 points behind Trump.

Evangelical voters, a bloc Cruz handily carried in Iowa, are 60 percent of the S.C. GOP primary electorate, Winthrop University professor Scott Huffmon said. With Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson garnering 17 percent of support from evangelical voters, per a December Winthrop University Poll, turning out the religious right will be critical.

“There’s a strong evangelical base, but I don’t sense it’s pledged to one candidate over another, not like in Iowa,” Woodard said. “It’s a little more open down here.”

Like Cruz’s father, a preacher, Dag Richter is part of a ministry in the nearby town of Taylors. In Cruz, Richter, who is also a born-again Christian, sees a man of religious convictions.

“My main concern is for America to get back to where it was when (Ronald) Reagan was running and I think this man will put us there,” Richter said. “I believe that God has put this man here, you just look at Iowa and what happened there, that’s all God.”

Reporter Emma Dumain contributed to this report.