For months, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has been aggressively wooing Iowa voters while positioning himself to pick up some of Donald Trump’s support if the billionaire businessman began to falter.
The brash Texas Republican has practically camped out in Iowa recently, crisscrossing all 99 of the state’s counties while building a campaign infrastructure there, according to The New York Times.
His strategy appears to be paying off.
Cruz, a favorite of evangelical Christians and far right conservatives, garnered 24 percent of the support of likely Republican caucus goers in Iowa, according a new Monmouth University survey released on Monday. Trump claimed second place with 19 percent, followed by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida with 17 percent and Ben Carson with 13 percent.
Trump can’t be happy with his showing in the poll, although it is essentially unchanged from his standing in October. Nonetheless, Trump may be able to count heavily on independent voters who say they are likely to caucus with the Republicans on Feb. 1.
The biggest losers appear to be Carson, who has been in a political free fall for the past month amid questions about the veracity of his life story and his understanding of foreign policy, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Cruz’s chief rival for younger, more conservative and Hispanic voters.
Cruz has been on the upswing for weeks with his searing attacks on President Obama and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, his tough talk about “carpet-bombing” ISIS in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., and his defense of gun owners.
At the same time, Carson has been crippled by his foreign policy blunders, including his insistence that Chinese forces were fighting in Syria and recently referring to the Palestinian Islamic terrorist organization Hamas as “Hummus.”
In late October, Carson held an impressive lead in the Monmouth survey of Iowa Republican voters, with 32 percent support over Trump, who at the time was a distant second place with only 18 percent support. Since then, Carson has fallen 19 points, while Cruz has picked up 14 points and Rubio has gained seven points.
Significantly, there has been a major shift in the evangelical Christian vote, which constitutes a powerful majority of Iowa caucus-goers. According to the new survey, evangelicals have moved behind Cruz, who currently enjoys a two-to-one lead over Carson.
“As Ben Carson’s stock has fallen, Cruz has been able to corral most of those voters,” said Monmouth pollster Patrick Murray in a statement. Murray added that Cruz was helped considerably by gaining the recent endorsement of Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a leading foe of immigration reform who rivals Trump in his disdain for illegal immigrants. About two in ten likely Iowa caucus-goers said King’s endorsement makes them more likely to support Cruz for president, while only seven percent said it would make them less likely to support the Texas Republican.
According to the New York Times report, Rubio for months has sought to campaign “above the fray,” offering high-minded rhetoric about the need for a new generation of political leadership and touting his credentials in foreign policy, defense, economics and immigration issues.
But in light of Cruz’s steady move towards the top of the GOP field and his strong showings in the Republican presidential debates, Rubio has begun to lash out at Cruz in interviews and speeches, according to the Times.
Both men are freshmen senators, both are 44 years old and part of a new generation of GOP leadership, and both have compelling life stories to tell about growing up as the sons of Cuban immigrants. Rubio has sought to question Cruz’s toughness on national security and terrorism while Cruz has sought to link Rubio to Democratic views on amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Although his showing in the latest Monmouth University poll was middling, Rubio managed to overtake Carson as the most positive candidate in the field, scoring a favorable rating of 70 percent, with only 16 percent expressing a negative view. Cruz and Carson are roughly in the same ball park, with both polling 67 percent favorable ratings and 19 unfavorable.
That constitutes a huge drop for the soft-spoken Carson from October, when 84 percent said they had a positive view of him. The combative, bombastic Trump scores a 54 percent positive and 36 percent negative rating. Moreover importantly, however, 60 percent said they would be pleased with Trump heading the GOP ticket next year.
The Monmouth University poll was conducted by telephone from Dec. 3 to 6, with 425 Iowa voters likely to attend the Republican presidential caucuses in February 2016. This sample has a margin of error of 4.8 percent.