ALTOONA — Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz promised to repeal Obamacare, destroy the Islamic State, create millions of jobs and implement a flat tax so simple that Americans could file their taxes on a postcard during a 75-minute campaign stop Monday afternoon at Altoona Family Restaurant.

Dressed in blue jeans and a light blue button-down shirt, the Texas senator told hundreds of cheering supporters that he and GOP front-runner Donald Trump are running neck and neck in Wisconsin in advance of the state’s Tuesday, April 5, presidential primary and that he needs them all to get out and vote.

Cruz said he believes Republicans are unifying behind his campaign despite Trump’s overwhelming 739-465 lead in the delegate race for the Republican nomination. A candidate needs 1,237 delegates to clinch the nomination before July’s GOP convention in Cleveland.

Cruz accused Trump of crossing the ethical line last week by attacking Cruz’s wife and family and said most people are fed up with the media’s incessant focus on Trump’s latest claims, often via Twitter.

“The American people are sick and tired of that,” Cruz said. “Who cares what Donald is tweeting late at night?”

Cruz told the enthusiastic crowd the country needs a leader with real solutions, not one who is always screaming and yelling.

Cruz spent about 10 minutes addressing the media and then devoted roughly an hour to signing autographs, posing for photos and shaking hands with people inside the restaurant as well as clustered on its front lawn before ending his visit with an energetic stump speech from the back of a pickup truck.

Among the Cruz supporters excited to capture photos alongside the candidate were Mara Grant and Tian Jackson, both officers in the Teenage Republicans club at Chippewa Falls High School. Both are 17 and disappointed they aren’t old enough to vote in next week’s primary, with Jackson’s 18th birthday coming just a month too late.

Grant, who also shook hands with Cruz and got him to autograph her school ID, said she likes Cruz’s views on Christianity and believes he would be a strong leader for the United States.

Judith Byers of Eau Claire proudly sported the “Cruz for President” button she bought online last summer and said she also has a Cruz campaign sign in her front yard.

“Ted Cruz has always been my guy,” said Byers, who was accompanied at the campaign stop by her grandson, Jayce. “He represents my values — his faith, his knowledge and his commitment to the Constitution.”

Byers called Trump a candidate with “no morals, no values and no solutions” and said she still believes Cruz has a chance to win the GOP nomination if Republicans rally behind him as an alternative to Trump.

“We love you, Ted,” she yelled just as Cruz climbed back on board his campaign bus emblazoned with the slogan “CRUZIN’ TO VICTORY.”

Cruz was scheduled to stop in Rothschild, near Wausau, for another campaign event Monday evening.

During his speech, Cruz railed against President Barack Obama for not doing enough to stop the Islamic State group and for being too politically correct to even say the words”radical Islamic terrorism.” The president has explained that he avoids the term to make it clear the U.S. is not at war with Islam, but with extremists who have perverted Islam.

If elected, Cruz said, “We will have a president willing to stand up and say we will defeat radical Islamic terrorists.”

He added that he would not be neutral in disputes between Israel and Palestinians. “America will stand unapologetically with the nation of Israel,” he said.

Cruz also vowed to abolish the IRS and pull back regulators, such as those from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to help the economy grow.

Meanwhile, Trump supporter Patrick Perrenoud of Chippewa Falls parked his pickup, decorated with a pair of prominent Trump signs, near the rally and said he was surprised at how many people stopped to pick up campaign items.

Perrenoud said the more the media and GOP party leaders attempt to bad-mouth Trump, the more people gravitate toward him. Still, even Perrenoud acknowledged he doesn’t love everything about Trump and considers him the “lesser of four evils” running for president.

“I think it’s time we have a businessman run this country instead of those career politicians,” he said. “At least he’s built something.”

But Cruz drew some of his loudest cheers when he referred to Trump’s “sleazy” campaign and pledged instead to focus on how to turn the country around after what he called the “failures of the Obama-Clinton economy of the past seven years.”

Republican state Reps. Kathy Bernier of Lake Hallie and Tom Larson of the Dunn County town of Colfax took advantage of Monday’s event to announced their endorsements of Cruz.

Bernier said she initially supported GOP contender Carly Fiorina but changed her allegiance after Fiorina dropped out of the race and endorsed Cruz. Despite Cruz’s widely acknowledged unpopularity among his Senate colleagues, Bernier said she believes Republicans should rally behind Cruz because of his devotion to conservative principles.

By contrast, she referred to Trump’s lead in the GOP nomination race as a “huge disappointment.” While she appreciates the public’s anger about politics as usual, Bernier said Trump is too vulgar, rude and disrespectful to serve in the nation’s highest office.

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(c)2016 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)

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