U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz barnstormed his home state Monday with Gov. Greg Abbott and former Gov. Rick Perry, rallying Texans to give him the win he needs to keep his presidential hopes alive amid what promises be a Super Tuesday onslaught by Donald Trump.

From Gilley’s Dallas to the Shrine Auditorium in San Antonio to Houston Baptist University, Cruz, Abbott and Perry made the case that the Texas senator is the last best hope to stop the New York businessman from seizing the Republican nomination at the national convention in Cleveland in July.

“The race now boils down to two candidates,” Abbott told reporters in San Antonio. “There’s Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.”

Cruz’s campaign started auspiciously, winning the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses. But that was followed with third-place finishes in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Super Tuesday, much of it playing out in the South on what his campaign once viewed as its most fertile political terrain, has turned into a rear guard action to win Texas, and the lion’s share of its 155 delegates, and hope to snatch a victory from Trump in one or two of the other 10 contests.

“Tomorrow Texans can unify and deliver the state of Texas for our very own Ted Cruz,” Abbott, who endorsed Cruz on Wednesday, told reporters in San Antonio. “Texas has more delegates at stake tomorrow than any other state. We can turn this race and ensure that Ted Cruz leads tomorrow with the wind at his back.”

“We are running neck and neck with Donald Trump in Super Tuesday states all across the country,” Cruz said.

‘Hanging on for dear life’

But, in fact, he lags well behind in most places outside Texas.

“He’s hanging on for dear life,” said Bill Miller, a leading Austin lobbyist.”Everyone recognizes that this is a guy that has run on the offensive from the day he was first elected to the Senate, and he’s been on the defensive for weeks.”

In Texas, Miller said, “For the last two cycles, the tea party, if you will, has ruled the roost, the bullies on the block.”

But he forecast that Tuesday’s vote will reveal, “There’s a new badass in town. It’s called the Trump supporters, and they have more ferocity and passion than the tea party.”

After analyzing a massive early vote on the Republican side, Derek Ryan, a Republican campaign consultant based in Austin, predicted a 2.5 million person Republican turnout. Ryan said close to 1 in 5 early voters had not cast a ballot before in a primary, and another 5 percent had never voted before at all.

Trump might account for some of that, but this is also the first time in memory that the primary comes in the throes of a charged, competitive presidential race.

Trump holds massive leads in recent polls in Super Tuesday states as disparate as Massachusetts and Georgia. But, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average, Cruz leads in Texas with 35.7 percent to 27.5 percent for Trump, 18.8 percent for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, 6.5 percent for Ohio Gov. John Kasich and 5.7 percent for Dr. Ben Carson.

With Trump’s overall triumph almost certain, the battle Tuesday is as much about whether Cruz or Rubio emerges Wednesday morning with a brighter smile and a better spiel for why he is best suited to take on Trump.

In Texas, Rubio is hovering just below the 20 percent threshold needed to get a share of delegates, which will be allocated proportionally at both the state and congressional district level.

“I think all the media attention since the debate has more and more portrayed Rubio as the most viable alternative to Trump,” said Wayne Thorburn, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Texas, who thinks that will nudge Rubio above the 20 percent mark statewide and perhaps enable him to score a win in Minnesota or Arkansas.

And Thorburn said Rubio is better positioned than Cruz to do well in upcoming states outside the conservative evangelical heartland.

But, in an interview with MSNBC at a barbecue restaurant in Cruz’s hometown of Houston on Monday afternoon, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the chair of Cruz’s presidential campaign in Texas, said that come Wednesday morning, it will be clear that “it’s time for Rubio to get out,” along with Kasich and Carson.

“They can’t win,” Patrick said. “There’s no path to the nomination open to them. The polls clearly show that if Ted were to bow out of the race, which the establishment is trying to work through Rubio to make that happen, 75 percent of Ted’s voters go to Trump, so it’s handed to Trump on a silver platter if Ted’s out.”

‘Texans know who to vote for’

At the Monday rallies, Cruz pressed his attack on Trump, claiming an apparent recording of Trump speaking with The New York Times editorial board was further evidence that the real estate mogul will not be as conservative in office as he has been on the campaign trail.

In the recording of an off-the-record conversation Trump had with the Times board, the candidate purportedly admitted he would not follow through on his promises to enact harsh immigration measures, like building a wall along the border — his signature issue — and deporting millions.

“I call on Donald: Ask The New York Times to release the tape and do so today before the Super Tuesday primary,” Cruz said. “Donald, if you’re sitting in Manhattan telling The New York Times that you’re lying to the voters, the voters have a right to know.”

In San Antonio, state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, expressed confidence that Texas will come through for Cruz.

“Texans will pull it out,” Campbell said. “Texans know who to vote for, who is the strongest person to lead America and put Texans forward, and that’s Ted Cruz.”

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(c)2016 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

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