SCOTIA, N.Y. — Campaigning before a largely evangelical crowd Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz told supporters that Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump isn’t “unstoppable” in New York and that the chase for the nomination is turning his way — if Republicans unite.
While the Texas senator was stumping upstate, a harsh critic, U.S. Rep. Peter King said any New Yorker “who even thinks of voting for Ted Cruz should have their head examined.”
Once shunned by GOP leaders when the campaign began in 2015, Cruz (R-Tex.) now is urging them to come to him. He dismissed Trump as too liberal and Ohio Gov. John Kasich as running too far behind to win the nomination.
That leaves him, Cruz said.
“All across New York, all across the country, people are waking up,” Cruz said, fresh off his victory Tuesday in the Wisconsin primary. “If Republicans stay untied, we will win this election.”
Cruz, Trump and Kasich are stepping up their appearances across New York State as they plot strategy for the state’s primary on April 19. Trump holds a big lead in most polls — 36 points over both Kasich and Cruz in a Quinnipiac survey taken before Wisconsin.
But Cruz said it’s fiction that Trump is “unstoppable.” He said a Trump nomination would hand Democrat Hillary Clinton the White House. That’s the same thing Trump and Kasich say about him.
Pilloried by Trump for criticizing “New York values,” Cruz didn’t refer to the remark but opened with: “God bless the great state of New York.”
The Texas senator gave his standard stump speech, saying he’s the only one who can be “trusted” to protect Second Amendment and religious liberty, choose conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices and always back Israel in the Middle East. He also got in a few digs at Democrats.
“The Democratic field consists of a wild-eyed socialist with ideals that are dangerous for America,” Cruz said pausing for effect, “and Bernie Sanders.”
The jab drew huge applause from the crowd of about 1,300 at the Mekeel Christian Academy.
Cruz is tapping evangelicals to help him organize around New York — especially upstate.
“Volunteers, activists and grass-roots supporters are pulling together for Cruz, knowing this is careening toward New York in an important way,” said Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, an evangelical lobbying group that represents 640 churches.
McGuire said the gym was filled mostly with people who spread the word with his group through social media.
“It’s pretty clear Cruz is their guy,” he said.
“I think we need integrity back in our government,” said Patrick Caccavo, a Glenville resident who wore his bus driver’s uniform to the rally. “He’s a man of principles.”
Outside the gym, opinion differed.
A makeshift banner with “Hillary 2016” stretched across the second-story porch of the house opposite the school entrance. Trump supporters hung a sign on a hurricane fence for Cruz supporters to view as they filed in: “Going Home, Lyin’ Ted.”
Rich DiMaggio of Oneonta said Cruz is running a dirty, “nasty” campaign.
“I would love to support Cruz, but I don’t like the way he’s campaigning,” DiMaggio said. “I don’t like how nasty it is. It’s in the gutter ... Don’t be out there, being a hypocrite about what you preach.”
King (R-Seaford) has been severely critical of Cruz for driving a 2013 federal government shutdown, opposing a Superstorm Sandy relief appropriation and bashing “New York values.” In a radio interview, King said he “just can’t stand” his fellow Republican.
““We’re tough, and to have some guy like Ted Cruz with cowboy boots walk around criticizing us,” King said on The Joe Piscopo Show. “Listen, I hope he gets the cold shoulder and other things from every New Yorker. Send him back where he belongs. He’s a phony.”