Cruz tells suburban GOP only he can overtake Trump
Ted Cruz looked to expand upon his base of support in Illinois on Friday, portraying himself to party regulars in Chicago and the Northwest suburbs as the only candidate who had the delegates and the ability to overtake Donald Trump.
"Maybe you started out supporting Jeb Bush, or Chris Christie. Maybe even now you're thinking of supporting Marco Rubio or John Kasich," the Texas senator said of the crowded Republican primary field, which has thinned considerably in recent weeks.
Headlining the Northwest Suburban Republican Lincoln Day Dinner in Rolling Meadows Friday night, Cruz called his rival candidates "good, decent men and women, people I respect and admire.
"But none of them is in the position to beat Donald Trump and win the Republican nomination."
"Join us," he urged. "Come stand together as one."
The Lincoln Day Dinner is an annual event hosted by more than a half dozen suburban township GOP organizations. Earlier Friday, Cruz spoke at a closed-door Illinois Republican fundraiser at the Palmer House in Chicago.
The sold-out Meadows Club event, at $120 a plate, was a far more genteel and intimate setting than Trump's aborted rally at the University of Illinois Chicago Pavilion.
Cruz said it was a "sad day" at UIC but placed much of the blame on Trump's rhetoric, which he says has helped incite violence.
Cruz said Illinois is a full-fledged battleground state this election cycle, even though other GOP candidates, like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, are concentrating primarily on the usual battlegrounds, like Ohio.
"Illinois is used to being neglected by Republicans," he said.
While a number of former Jeb Bush supporters have gotten behind Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, others are up for grabs between Cruz and Kasich.
"The jury's still out," said Hanover Park Mayor Rod Craig, a former Bush delegate, about who he will back now. "If Rubio could get back on track I think he'd make a great candidate."
State Rep. Tom Morrison, of Palatine, is an alternate delegate for Rubio but said it was "seeming more and more like a race where Cruz was the most viable candidate to get the requisite number of delegates needed be number two."
Trump has 458 of the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination. The other three candidates have a combined 564, according to The Associated Press.
Kasich is pledging to win his home state of Ohio, a winner-take-all state. Cruz's victories in Kansas and Maine last Saturday, as well as Idaho on Tuesday, help make his case that he alone has proved he can beat the Republican front-runner.
In Illinois, voters Tuesday will elect three Republican delegates from each congressional district. That's separate from picking a presidential candidate at the top of the ballot.
Cruz's relatively formal event Friday contrasted vividly with the town hall meetings Kasich held in Lisle and Palatine earlier in the week, where large groups of suburbanites, many retired, turned out to ask Kasich direct questions.
Elk Grove Township Committeeman Mike Sweeney said the Lincoln Day dinner organization reached out to all the candidates in the crowded GOP primary field last fall, and Cruz was the first to respond.
Later Friday-evening rumors began circulating at the Lincoln Day dinner that Trump might attend. He did not, and a source said while the Trump campaign offered to have him come to Rolling Meadows, the offer was "politely declined."
The Cruz campaign is led in Illinois by Chicago Republican Chris Cleveland. The event pulled in an array of conservative leaders including Barrington Tea Party Leader Bruce Donnelly, conservative activist Jill Dolan of Park Ridge and former Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica.