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Ted Cruz basks in Iowa win, but New Hampshire is a tougher climb

Cruz took his campaign to New Hampshire, where he hopes to capitalize on his caucus victory in a state that has a history of second-guessing Iowa’s top choice.
Campaign signs stand in the bed of a pickup truck outside the Crossing Life Church where Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) held a campaign town hall meeting Feb. 2, 2016 in Windham, N.H. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Campaign signs stand in the bed of a pickup truck outside the Crossing Life Church where Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) held a campaign town hall meeting Feb. 2, 2016 in Windham, N.H.

WINDHAM, New Hampshire -- Sen. Ted Cruz on Tuesday took his campaign to New Hampshire, where he hopes to capitalize on his caucus victory in a state that has a long history of second-guessing Iowa’s top choice.

“This is a movement from the people,” Cruz told a small church packed for his afternoon town hall. “It is a movement of people who are furious with Washington, D.C., with the Washington cartel, with career politicians in both parties who get in bed with lobbyists and grow and grow and grow government.”

The glow of his Iowa victory still hung in the air for attendees like Windham resident Debbie Robinson, 61, who said she moved closer to supporting Cruz over Sen. Marco Rubio after Monday’s vote.  

“I was very inspired by his speech,” Robinson said. “I think he’s a good man, I think his intentions are good, and I think he might be someone I can trust.”

Cruz offered the crowd a greatest hits of his platform: Repeal the Iran deal; repeal Obamacare; repeal the president’s executive actions en masse; secure the border; end “sanctuary cities;” and abolish the IRS.

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All of this played well in Iowa, but New Hampshire’s demographics and political traditions make it a tougher climb.

The Cruz campaign relied on high turnout and support from evangelical voters to win Iowa, who made up 64% of GOP caucus voters, according to entrance polls. New Hampshire, which votes on February 9, is a different animal, however, and its Republican primary electorate tends to include fewer religious voters and more independents and moderates. The state has repeatedly bucked Iowa in recent years, going for Mitt Romney in 2012 over Iowa winner Rick Santorum, and John McCain in both 2008 and 2000 over respective Iowa winners Mike Huckabee and George W. Bush.

The good news is that these shifts also lower the bar for what might be considered a successful performance, meaning even a second place or strong third finish might generate positive attention. Like Iowa, New Hampshire has few delegates to offer, and the bigger prize for candidates who perform strongly is momentum heading into the next round of contests. 

‘We're running here to exceed expectations,” Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler told reporters on Tuesday. “I don’t expect to win.” 

Donald Trump, smarting from his loss in Iowa, has led New Hampshire polls by double-digit margins for months, with Cruz in the mix for a distant second along with several other candidates. Trump is gunning hard for Cruz, who the billionaire developer frequently argues may not be eligible for the presidency due to his Canadian birthplace (Cruz’s mother is American).

Asked by a voter about Trump’s constant insults, Cruz pledged to “focus on substance” rather than attack the national front-runner’s character. But Cruz said Trump's negative turn reflected desperation.

“I can tell you six weeks ago, Donald Trump was saying every day that I was his friend, that he loved me, that I was terrific, that I was nice -- and now I’m an anchor baby,” Cruz said, referring to one of Trump’s most recent epithets.

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Cruz’s bigger threat may be Sen. Marco Rubio, who won the “expectations game” in Iowa with a surge among late-deciding voters that nearly pushed him past Trump’s total. The more that moderate voters are split between establishment candidates like Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich, the better the odds Cruz can vault into second in New Hampshire.

Rubio has clashed with Cruz for several weeks, particularly over immigration. The Florida senator has argued Cruz’s introduction of an amendment that would have removed Rubio's own immigration bill’s path to citizenship while leaving a path to legal status in place is evidence Cruz changed his position later to appease conservatives. The previous GOP debate in Iowa featured footage of Cruz arguing at the time that his amendment would help smooth passage of the Gang of Eight bill and a voter asked him about it at Tuesday’s town hall. 

“The fact I introduced a one-sentence amendment to fix one problem with the bill does not mean you get to stick on me all the garbage in the bill, particularly when I was leading the fight to defeat the whole bill,” Cruz said.

Tyler told reporters Cruz still sees an opportunity to do well in New Hampshire, where he said the campaign has “well over 1,000” volunteers, by uniting the state’s smaller social conservative bloc with groups like tea partiers and libertarians where Cruz has some appeal.

“What we saw last night [in Iowa] was … that old Reagan coalition coming back together again,” Cruz said in his town hall. “We saw conservatives and evangelicals and libertarians and Reagan Democrats all standing together saying: ‘What on earth are we doing?’”

But the larger plan is still to win states like South Carolina, which votes Feb. 20, and other southern states on March 1 and March 15 where the proportion of born-again Christians is more in line with Iowa.

“We've proven that we can turn out evangelicals in Iowa, and we're going to take that model and that organization and replicate it through the states,” Tyler said. “In the meantime, we're going to compete here and we're going to compete here hard.”