Cruz allies tout his Latino background as general election benefit

Trump, Cruz go to war with one week until Iowa
Trump, Cruz go to war with one week until Iowa

    JUST WATCHED

    Trump, Cruz go to war with one week until Iowa

MUST WATCH

Trump, Cruz go to war with one week until Iowa 04:16

Story highlights

  • Ted Cruz's allies are citing his Latino heritage as a possible general election benefit
  • The candidate is stressing his electability against a Democratic opponent

Waterloo, Iowa (CNN)Conservative radio personality Glenn Beck was giving Ted Cruz his highest-profile endorsement in months: Cruz was a Lincoln. A Washington. A Reagan. A conservative icon of his generation.

And a Latino.
"I have officially endorsed Ted Cruz to become the first Hispanic-American president, to become the first first-generation American president," Beck said Saturday to building applause here as Cruz came onto the stage.
    Those are words Cruz does not say himself.
    In the homestretch here in Iowa, Cruz is beginning to tout that he's more electable in November than Trump is against Hillary Clinton. But missing from Cruz's pitch, to the consternation of some top Republicans in his orbit, is any mention of his ethnicity, perhaps one of Cruz's greatest selling points.
    Cruz's super PAC, Keep the Promise, has long believed that Cruz holds tremendous general election potential as a Latino candidate -- especially in swing states like Florida, Colorado and Nevada.
    While Cruz regularly weaves his speeches with the emotional story of his father's escape from Cuba, he says he does not believe in the identity politics he claims is popular with Democrats, and he has described his evangelical faith and his conservative political philosophy as far more guiding principles in his life than his ethnic background. And he almost never speaks Spanish on the trail, unlike the other Cuban-American candidate, Marco Rubio.
    "Que bueno!" Cruz replied to four Cuban immigrants shouting out to him at a stop last week in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Cruz wanted to know where they came from: "De donde?"

    Super PAC emphasizing Cruz's heritage

    In a detailed, 50-slide PowerPoint presentation that Cruz's close friend, Toby Neugebauer, used to pitch Cruz donors on the super PAC, Cruz's heritage was a main answer to the question posed in the presentation's title: "Can he win?"
    On the slide, "Republican Must Do's for 2016," Neugebauer wrote that the party must "perform better with Latino voters in Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada," -- and that Cruz, as a Hispanic presidential contender, could.
    That presentation, first reported by CNN this summer, was recently removed from the Keep the Promise website. But even in the now-retooled digital presence, Cruz's Hispanic background continues to be a calling card for his candidacy -- at least in the eyes of his big-money super PAC backers.
    "Ted has a history of connecting with Hispanic voters. In his run for Texas senator he garnered 40% of the Hispanic vote," the brief "Why Ted" page reads. "To win a swing state like Florida, Ted would need to receive 66% of the Cuban vote. Considering Ted himself is of Cuban descent, winning key swing states with large Hispanic populations is feasible."
    Jim Budde, who runs Cruz's campaign in Iowa's rural Jasper County, said he frequently encounters Iowans at the door worried "right away" about Cruz's ability to win in November. And he argued that Cruz's Hispanic background would "definitely" be an asset in that general election.
    "You sure can't come after the Republicans anymore as being all about the old white people," Budde said.
    Part of the reason why Cruz has not emphasized his Hispanic heritage is that he fundamentally disagrees with the need to woo typically liberal voting blocs.
    The senator has long held that the way to win a general election is to all but ignore moderates and instead energize the restless GOP base. And if Cruz is attempting to appeal to any Democratic constituency in particular, it is not Latinos, but white, working-class Catholics, or "Reagan Democrats," that Cruz says in recent interviews could help him win states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

    Electability pitch

    Cruz, meanwhile, has been making the electability pitch to voters in Iowa, wielding horse race polling and donation histories to argue that Trump could not present a strong general-election contrast with Clinton.
    Trump has trailed much of the GOP field in early head-to-head polling against Clinton and Bernie Sanders, with the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal survey last week showing Clinton beating Trump by 10 points but only Cruz by 4.
    That worry raises the stakes for what happens here in Iowa next week. Beck warned a Cruz crowd here that if Trump wins the nomination, Democrats would "pick his bones apart and destroy him."
    And given Trump's dominance in later states, Cruz in Iowa is the Republican Party's best chance to avoid that. Beck said the GOP race "might be" over if Trump beats Cruz here on Monday -- meaning a Democrat takes the White House.
    "If you have the image of win, win, win," Beck told reporters, "I think it's going to happen really quickly."