Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas tea party firebrand whose status in polls, particularly in Iowa, has been rising as national security becomes a greater concern for U.S. voters, seized the top slot in a new poll of likely GOP caucusgoers in the Hawkeye State.
In the poll, by Monmouth University, Cruz was the favorite of 24 percent of respondents, a 14-point jump over the last poll the college released, in October, that had the senator at 10 percent. That had him in third place, tied with Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, and behind retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who was in first place, and real estate mogul Donald Trump, who was in the second spot.
Rubio himself saw an impressive gain. He got 17 percent in the new poll, placing him in second place, a statistical tie with Trump, who got 19 percent. Carson’s support plunged to 13 percent from the 32 percent he had in October.
But several presidential candidates are showing concern about Cruz’s growing momentum, and are focusing attack ads on him. It is the first time Cruz has seized the top spot in a critical poll.
Rubio began directly criticizing Cruz in the last few weeks, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign began zeroing in on the senator in earnest this week, picking apart Cruz’s use of a congressional hearing to tear down climate change theories.
The Clinton campaign is now operating on the idea that her biggest threats in the election at this point are Cruz, Rubio and Trump.
The Cruz scenario depicted by the Clinton campaign, Politico reported, is that he would excite the conservative Christian base and add to that group of supporters people who now are behind Trump but for one reason or another would not remain loyal to him.
Political experts have attributed the shift in poll results on GOP candidates in large part to the terrorist attacks in Paris, and how they have made tough talk on foreign policy and fighting the Islamic State highly appealing to would-be voters.
Trump has remained strong in polls even as he has made controversial calls for keeping Muslims from entering the United States, as well as uttered other comments that have been condemned by his own party, including those running against him for the GOP presidential nomination.
Cruz has not gone as far as Trump in his comments on how to respond to the growing boldness and savagery of ISIS, but he has taken a tough stance on how to address terrorism.
“What we need is a commander in chief who stands up and, number one, doesn’t engage in politically correct doublespeak and doesn’t refuse to say the words radical Islamic terrorism as Obama and Hillary and all the Democrats do,” Cruz said in an interview with conservative radio show host Mike Gallagher on Monday.
“Number two, [we need someone] who says we will defeat ISIS, we’re going to carpet bomb them in oblivion, we’re going to arm the Kurds, we’re going to go and find them and hunt them down and kill them.”
Cruz also got a boost among Iowans from their congressman, Steve King, a deeply conservative Republican who often makes headlines with his strict views on undocumented immigrants and support for tightened border enforcement.
“This marks the first time Ted Cruz has held a lead in any of the crucial early states. As Ben Carson’s stock has fallen, Cruz has been able to corral most of those voters,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ. “Congressman King’s endorsement may not be the primary reason for this swing, but it certainly put a stamp on the Cruz surge in Iowa.”
In an interview with Fox News Latino last week, King said that many Iowans have told him that they decided to support Cruz after learning of his endorsement of the senator.
King said some voters told him they had even switched their choice to Cruz because of his support for the Texan.
If some are scratching their heads over Cruz’s success in the new Iowa poll, Clinton friend and operative James Carville is not. He has placed a bet on Cruz on the website PredictIt.com, according to Politico.
“I’ve been on Cruz since Day One,” Politico quoted Carville as saying, adding that the diehard Democrat’s wife, Republican strategist Mary Matalin, hosted a fundraiser for Cruz about a year ago at their home. “I saw the people that were there, people I’d never seen before ... I was fascinated. I saw that these were not typical political people. He’s smart, he has a message and he’s positioned himself just right in this race.”
For his part, King says he hopes that his favorite presidential candidate in this election cycle can sustain his momentum.
King said to Fox News Latino that polls can be roller coasters, and that many people don’t even begin to tune in to the details of a presidential race until after the beginning of the year.
“Statistically, in Iowa, he’s moved to the front of this race,” King said of Cruz. “His biggest challenge is to maintain the momentum for the next two months. It’s a hard place to be – at the top. Strategically, I would have advised ‘Let’s not get there right away, so soon, let’s wait until Christmas.”
But he believes that Cruz can energize the conservative and evangelical base, and get those voters to turn out at the Iowa caucus as well as the general election.