Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's early entry into the 2016 presidential race is "very good news" for Jeb Bush, as the former Florida governor's chances get better with more right-of-center candidates on the ballot, a Washington Post op-ed
Cruz, as an underdog candidate for the nomination, is making a play for evangelical Christians as the first part of his strategy to challenge Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as Bush's main alternative, explains columnist E.J. Dionne.
Cruz's announcement on Monday at Liberty University, a private Christian school founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, was no accident, said Dionne, who says the most important sentence in the Texas tea party favorite's speech was a call to "imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values."
Cruz is much better known, Dionne said, for his crusade against Obamacare and his willingness to shut down the government, although he's always been a religious conservative as well.
The Texas Republican will first try to marginalize ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Dr. Ben Carson, who are also focusing on the evangelical vote, Dionne believes, and then will go after Walker and then Bush.
According to a McClatchy-Marist poll
earlier this month, Bush and Walker are virtually tied at the head of the potential Republican pack of candidates.
But Bush leads Walker among moderates by 26 to 15 percent, while conservatives favored Walker by 20 percent to 18 percent for Bush, and among the very conservative, Walker outpaced Bush by 24 percent to 7 percent.
Walker's competitors for the very conservative voters were Huckabee and Carson, each netting 19 percent, and overall, they got 10 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
"Add those constituencies up, and you have a number that competes with both Walker and Bush," said Dionne.
Cruz only scored four percent in the survey, but he could build up his base if he can take away supporters from Huckabee and Carson, and talk about liberty and the Constitution could help attract votes away from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
Bush, meanwhile, will need to go after competition on the establishment side of the party, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Eventually, Dionne said Bush could "luck out" as the more conservative rivals claw their way through the election process.
"Cruz has just turned the battle for the political souls of religious conservatives into the first bloody crossroads of the GOP's struggle," Dionne concluded. "Scott Walker needs to watch his back."
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