Inside a restaurant dining room that was packed to the gills, Heidi Cruz gave a promise to Republicans in the Metro East and around the country: Her husband, GOP presidential contender Ted Cruz, could unite a party that appears to be at war with itself.
And she added that the at-times contentious Texas senator can bridge divides without giving up his core beliefs.
“We can unite this party behind a strong, constitutional conservative. Someone who I’ve known for 16 years. Someone who I’ve been married to for 14 and a half,” said Heidi Cruz. “And Ted Cruz can unite this party by appealing to our better selves.”
With a week left before a potentially critical Illinois primary, Heidi Cruz spent Tuesday barnstorming across the Land of Lincoln. Her stop at Eckert’s Restaurant in Belleville attracted far more people than organizers were expecting, which was a perhaps a testament to her husband’s current position in the scramble for the White House.
While Donald Trump is leading the Republican field, Ted Cruz isn’t that far behind in the delegate count. He easily beat the billionaire businessman on Saturday in Maine and Kansas and nearly captured as many delegates as Trump in Louisiana and Kentucky.
Next Tuesday, Republican voters will pick their presidential preferences in a number of key states – including Illinois and Missouri. And Heidi Cruz said her husband’s rock-ribbed conservatism should be appealing to voters.
“Ted is a disciplined communicator,” Heidi Cruz said. “He is truly convicted in his beliefs. He knows how to articulate them and how to fight and win for our values to make this country a better place. We don’t need to appeal to our fears, to our worse selves, to being against people.”
Before he jumped into the presidential contest, Ted Cruz gained notice – and immense criticism – for tying up congressional business to push his conservative philosophy. Although those types of tactics didn’t gain him many friends in the U.S. Senate, they found appeal with Illinois residents like Mary Phillip.
“I like the fact that he is behind our Constitution,” said Phillip, a Belleville resident. “I think we really need to firm it up and get back to what’s important.”
Fairview Heights resident Jason Blagg met Ted Cruz earlier this year in Iowa. He said that he appreciates how Cruz “stands for the Constitution and for the Bible.”
“I think he’ll do really good here,” Blagg said. “There’s a lot of people, especially in southern Illinois, that really believe in what he has to say and what he could do for the country.”
Still, there are potential obstacles for Cruz’s chances to capture all of Illinois’ delegates. For one thing, he’ll have to convince voters leery of Trump’s message to vote for him instead of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, or Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
That may not be an easy task, since Illinois possesses a fairly large stable of moderate Republican voters – especially in the Chicago suburbs. It’s not out of the question that Cruz’s emphasis on his conservatism may not appeal to those who elected centrist political figures like U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, or former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar.
But many who attended Tuesday’s rally – like Brooke Kloess – say Cruz can unite the different factions of the Illinois GOP. That’s especially the case, she said, if Rubio and Kasich aren’t seen as viable alternatives to Trump.
“I think that people are starting to see who he really, truly is as the field narrows a little bit and they’ve been able to see him truly their answer their questions with substance,” Kloess said. “And the anti-Trump supporters are kind of getting sick of his insults and childish ways. So, Cruz seems like the adult. And whenever he does attack, it’s not personal insults like Rubio has been doing. He’s attacking his policies and I think that’s what people like to see.”
Talking with reporters, Heidi Cruz doubled down on the idea that her husband’s philosophical approach could unite Republicans.
“We do that by running a consistent, conservative candidate where people know where the candidate stands,” Heidi Cruz said. “He draws a line in the sand that is different from the Democrats. Ted is a fiscal, social and national security conservative. And you know, our party is made up of many different parts. We have millennials. We have Evangelicals. We have fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. We have people of many, many different religions who come from all over the world.
“People are uniting behind this party, because they know that the policies of the left do not work,” she added. “And we win general elections when we run a proven, consistent conservative that’s distinguishable from the Democrats.”
Not everybody who attended Tuesday’s rally was completely sold on Cruz’s candidacy. Mascoutah resident Bill O’Hara actually came to Eckert’s to have lunch with his wife, but decided to stay and listen to Heidi Cruz’s speech.
O’Hara attended Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders’ rally in Edwardsville last week. He said he’s appreciative that presidential candidates are paying attention to southern Illinois, even if he doesn’t find a lot of favor with Cruz’s candidacy.
“I was impressed with Heidi Cruz, but I’m not totally impressed with her husband’s political ambitions at all,” said O’Hara. “I give her a lot of credit. It takes a lot of dedication to run for office and what she’s doing with her family and everything. … I give her a lot of credit. But I’m not aligned with the party of her choice.”