04:00 - Source: CNN
Being Moody: The most conservative area in the country

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Sen. Ted Cruz would seem to have the advantage in Texas on Super Tuesday

But Donald Trump is making inroads

(CNN) —  

Ted Cruz’s future as a Republican presidential candidate may come down to his showing Tuesday in his home state of Texas, a state where a plurality of GOP voters supports him but also where Donald Trump is pulling voters from his grasp.

The internal struggle for conservative hearts and minds is perhaps no fiercer than here in the Texas panhandle, a region known as one of the most Republican in the nation. This is truly Republican country.

Although Texas has a few spots of blue around the coasts and in urban areas, the panhandle and surrounding counties to its south are dark red. In the 2012 presidential race, every county in this area voted majority Republican – in some, GOP voters outnumbered Democrats nine to one.

In rural King County, just south of the panhandle where 146 people voted last presidential cycle, just five people supported Obama. Cruz himself received vast support for his Senate campaign here when he was first elected in 2012, winning a substantial majority of votes in every panhandle county.

But as the race for the GOP nomination heads to the Lone Star State, the question is, which Republican? Trump has made inroads with crucial parts of Cruz base, particularly social conservatives and evangelicals, but Cruz’s native son status in delegate-rich Texas could keep him a competitor beyond Super Tuesday.

With 155 delegates at stake – the largest of any state contest on Super Tuesday – Cruz must have a substantially strong showing to keep pace with frontrunner Trump.

“I like a lot about (Cruz), and I will say this: I believe he is a true conservative,” said Harry King, an undecided voter who manages an antique shop in Canadian, a town named after a nearby river. “But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Donald win.”

Statewide, a Monmouth University poll released Thursday showed Cruz leading Trump by a comfortable 15 percentage points. The survey found that 38% of likely Republican voters favor Cruz over 23% who chose Trump and 21% who said they planned to support Rubio. As of this writing, Pivit, CNN Politics’ political prediction market, shows Cruz with a 60% chance of winning the Lone Star State.

But Cruz shouldn’t take support for granted. Panhandle residents who spoke to CNN were divided in their support for the Republican candidates. While almost all Republicans spoke fondly of Cruz, some said they felt Trump’s outsider message will lead them to support the real estate investor over their senator.

“It’s time to turn our government over to a non-politician,” said Curtis Beasley, a Republican supporting Trump in Dalhart, a town of about 8,000 in the northwest corner of the panhandle that’s closer in distance to seven state capital cities than Austin, Texas’ own capitol. “Politicians have had their chance.

A land of lonely Democrats

Finding a Democrat in these parts, however, is not nearly as easy, although they do exist in quiet peaceful co-existence among the GOP majority. In King County – the one where just five supported Obama’s re-election in 2012, county Democratic chairwoman Judy Jackson told CNN she had the position “only because we have not found anyone else to take it.”

In Donley County, where Republican Mitt Romney took 84% of the vote, Democratic Party chairwoman Gene Taylor said she tries to steer clear of political conversations – especially at church – but sometimes it’s impossible around town. She was one of just three Democrats who represented the county at the last state party convention, and one was her husband.

“I’m having trouble getting workers at our polling places,” said Taylor, who has a Hillary Clinton sticker on her car. “Because most of them, if they are Democrats, they don’t want to identify, so they kind of keep back in the bushes.”

For more, watch the video above of CNN’s road trip across the Texas panhandle.