Ted Cruz had a very good weekend. With the collapse of the Rubio campaign, the Texas senator is in a strong position to win a large share of the anti-Trump vote. That could put him in striking distance of winning North Carolina.
Notably, there have been no recent polls of the state. The last time we got a North Carolina survey, Jeb Bush was still in the race. The results of those polls: Trump +9, Trump +10, Trump +18. If one dismisses the SurveyUSA poll as an outlier and asserts that the anti-Trump vote is starting to coalesce, one can easily see a path to victory for Cruz.
The Trump campaign seems to be aware of the stakes in North Carolina, which is a proportional contest but still one with a lot of delegates at stake. He’s holding two different rallies in the state this week. Curiously, the other campaigns are nowhere to be found, which suggests they don’t see a path to victory or don’t regard the state as especially important when it comes to racking up delegates.
Still, from what I’ve seen Cruz has overwhelming support among conservative activists. He overwhelmingly won the Wake County Republican straw poll and took 59% of the vote at the Civitas Conservative Leadership Conference (Trump took only 16%). Conservative activists don’t necessarily resemble the Republican Party at large, and among unaffiliated voters Trump probably has a commanding lead.
That brings up another point: that North Carolina is only a semi-open primary hurts Trump. As we’ve seen before, Trump’s strongest support lies with a “certain type of Democrat” – white, working class, no college degree, rural voters. There are a lot of those in North Carolina but they won’t be voting for Trump because Democrats can only vote in their own primary. Trump is probably going to have to rely on overwhelming support from people not affiliated with either party.
So, do I think Cruz will win the state? Not at this point. But it’s worth keeping an eye on, especially if Cruz gains more momentum. Don’t let Trump’s victories in our neighboring states fool you – in Virginia he got 35%, in Tennessee and Georgia he got 39%, in South Carolina he got 33%. But that was when the anti-Trump vote was more divided. Now that they’re starting to unite behind one candidate, the result on March 15th in North Carolina might be very interesting.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.