Mutts BBQ in Easley, South Carolina was, I assume, as crowded as it’s ever been the Thursday before the primary. Fortunately for the kitchen, no one was eating. Instead the customers were in the back room, awaiting the arrival of presidential candidate Ted Cruz.
The room was packed. Toward the back entrance, videographers were balancing tripods on top of diner chairs, trying to capture an angle of the stage. I waded through the crowd to a spot where I could see in between the heads of two Cruz volunteers wearing “Courageous Conservative” T-shirts.
Representative Jeff Duncan of South Carolina’s 3rd District was the first of four to speak before Cruz, setting the tone for the rest of the event. Cruz had earned his endorsement, he explained, by checking three boxes: believing in Jesus, believing life begins at conception, and believing in the Constitution.
After Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas repeated enthusiastically that he would follow Ted Cruz into battle, Representative Steve King of Iowa described why he had taken to the campaign trail to “protect the investment Iowa had made in Ted Cruz.” King explained that, while he had grown up on the Bible, the Cruz family had done one better; Ted was raised on the Bible and the Constitution.
Mike Lee, the Senator from Utah and the biggest name joining Cruz on the campaign, expanded on King’s description of the Texan’s childhood before launching into a history lesson. The cause that began in 1773 with the Tea Party, he argued, is the same as that of Ted Cruz today: less taxes, smaller government, and more accessibility.
More than a half hour after the event started, Ted Cruz appeared on stage amidst cheers. He asked God to bless South Carolina, joked a bit about how hard it is to go to the bathroom during a filibuster, and drove home that he was, in case the audience hadn’t been paying attention earlier, raised on the Bible and the Constitution.
Cruz’s endorsements may not hold as much clout with South Carolina as those of Marco Rubio, but his serve a different purpose. From the location in a local BBQ joint to the jokes about Cruz and Lee’s friendship being like that of brothers to the extreme over-emphasis of Cruz’s two sacred texts, the event focused on being relatable.
If Iowa taught us anything, it’s that Cruz’s target audience of evangelicals certainly shows up to vote. He overcame the polls there, and may have a chance to in South Carolina, where he is currently polling in second. The focus on faith and strict constitutional interpretation directly echoes his strategy in Iowa. And, while this strategy didn’t work in New Hampshire, it just might in South Carolina, a state in the heart of the Bible Belt. If Cruz is going to keep his standing as one of the frontrunners, he is going to need to win wherever possible, and a second win for the Cruz camp in South Carolina is definitely within grasp.