Can Cruz Pull Off an Upset in Arizona?

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

While it appears Utah is Ted Cruz’s to lose today, Arizona presents a unique challenge to his winning a GOP Primary Daily Double. 

The weekend polling of likely primary voters Maggie cited showed a few surprises. Prior to this poll, there had been a dearth of new polling, leading many to believe that the race was already decided for Donald Trump given the history of early voting in Arizona. John Fund, in a weekend National Review piece, agrees:

Arizona is an early-voting state, and people can cast ballots up to 26 days before the actual primary. As of last Thursday, 249,000 Republicans in Maricopa County alone (where Phoenix is located) had already cast ballots. That’s already more votes than the total cast in Maricopa in the 2012 GOP primary.

Early voting is a big advantage for Donald Trump, who tends to do very poorly among late deciders in primaries. “That banking of votes early on does help Trump tremendously, no matter what happens,” Richard Herrara, a political-science professor at Arizona State University, told the New York Post Friday. “He’s probably got a pretty sizable lead, so he’s just got to hold on.”

While the new polling shows Trump with a commanding lead (46-33) over Cruz, it appears the early vote (about 11 percent) actually went less strongly for Trump. For Cruz supporters expecting a repeat of his successes in closing with late-deciders, the weak Trump lead could be unwelcome heartburn, suggesting Trump is actually gaining strength and not operating from a previously banked vote. For Trump supporters, it’s more validation of his belligerence on immigration.

I spoke with politically savvy friends in Arizona yesterday, one of whom suggested Cruz could win the state.  Another disagrees unless Cruz crushes late-deciding ‘early’ ballots and wins Election Day going away. That appears the only path he has to winning.

The most recent polling prior to the weekend Fox News/Opinion Savvy poll was the Westgroup/Merrill poll, taken before Marco Rubio exited the race. That poll had Trump leading Cruz 31-19. The 15-14 percent differential suggests that the Rubio vote has split, with slightly more going to Trump than to Cruz. But the poll also indicated an enormous 30 percent undecided.

I think they will be the key to a Cruz victory if there is to be one. And I think it will be specifically because Cruz engaged Trump on the immigration issue, if only to show Arizona voters that Trump is not the only one who feels their pain. I know some here disagree. But I have to believe Cruz’s campaign tested the message on immigration and found the hot button issue was crime against law-abiding citizens by non-law-abiding illegals. I thought his going after Trump on immigration was a smart way to level Trump’s narrative and to position him as the more reasonable choice on dealing with the issue. Today may well prove that wrong, but I thought when I saw it that it was a smart pivot.

Clint Cline is the president of Design4, a national media and messaging firm based in Florida.