Sen. Ted Cruz’s calibrated Christmas tour

Four-year-old Jonathan Schupe, left, and his 18-month-old brother, Harrison Schupe, sit on the lap of Santa Claus, as portrayed by Robin Hood, before a Ted Cruz rally in Mechanicsville, Va, on Friday, Dec. 18, 2015.
Four-year-old Jonathan Schupe, left, and his 18-month-old brother, Harrison Schupe, sit on the lap of Santa Claus, as portrayed by Robin Hood, before a Ted Cruz rally in Mechanicsville, Va, on Friday, Dec. 18, 2015. AP

Sen. Ted Cruz is doing up Christmas big in his presidential campaign.

The Texas Republican made stops Friday in Virginia and Georgia as part of his 12 cities in 12 days tour, which finishes Dec. 23 and features a photo op with Santa for rally-goers at every stop.

After voting “no” on a sweeping budget bill in the Senate on Friday, Cruz traveled to a church in suburban Richmond, Va., then on to Georgia, to be followed by rallies in the next week in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

It’s great to be back in America.

Ted Cruz in Mechanicsville, Va.

All are southern Super Tuesday states with a March 1 primary election in what is known as the SEC primary, a reference to the Southeastern Conference for sports. Texas also is a Super Tuesday state.

It is all part of a strategy to appeal to evangelicals and tea party members in areas where he is strong. Cruz now leads billionaire Donald Trump in Iowa in several polls and is rising in national polls as well, placing second to Trump. In Texas, Cruz is tied with Trump in the latest poll.

“He has done a remarkable job in conducting his campaign and executing his early strategy,” said Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in an interview. “It’s a remarkable job of fund raising and building the campaign infrastructure.”

Jillson credits Cruz, who was a political novice in his first run for office in 2012 when he won the senate seat, with having figured out his path to the nomination and sticking with it. However, he does not think that it will ultimately win him the top spot because he has alienated his Senate colleagues and the Republican establishment.

“He’s strong but brittle,” said Jillson.

Cruz is showing that his concentration on evangelicals is paying off.

“Slightly more than one-quarter of the delegates to the Republican National Convention will be chosen on March 1, with more than two-thirds of those delegates coming from southern states where Cruz’s message platform resonates strongly with the tea party and social conservative voters who comprise a large majority of GOP primary voters,” said Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

And there is the barnstorming pre-Christmas tour.

“Cruz also has a viable and realistic path to an early lead in the delegate count via success in Iowa and South Carolina which would propel him into the all important March 1 primaries and caucuses across 14 states,” said Jones. South Carolina’s primary is Feb.20 after the first-in-the nation New Hampshire primary Feb. 9, where Cruz is less popular.

But now he leads in Iowa.

Dennis J. Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Des Moines, said, “We know that Cruz is ahead at the moment, but it’s too soon to say that he’s winning. While many Republicans, without defining their terms, always say that the U.S. is a ‘center-right’ country, Cruz is foregoing anything ‘center’ and running purely from the right, which in Republican circles means conservative evangelicals and Tea Party supporters.”

The Iowa Caucus, which will be Feb. 1, is dominated by evangelical Christians who are about a quarter of the Iowa population, but in 2012 they were 57 percent of Republican caucus-goers and in 2008 they were 60 percent of the participants.

The Cruz campaign has been touting his recent endorsements by evangelical conservatives.

Ken Cuccinelli, former attorney general of Virginia and an activist on social issues, endorsed Cruz Friday at the rally at Life Church in the Richmond area. “Not only does he have a proven track record for standing up for conservative values, but he has also demonstrated a willingness to fight back against both the Democrats and the establishment agenda,” said Cuccinelli.

Earlier in the week, Dr. James Dobson a religious broadcaster, whose program, Family Talk, has a national audience, and the National Organization for Marriage, a traditional family organization, also endorsed Cruz.

“I am thrilled to have the support of the National Organization for Marriage,” Cruz said in a statement. “They are a staunch defender of traditional marriage and religious liberty, and a critical voice in protecting our rights. It is encouraging that conservatives are continuing to coalesce around my campaign: fiscal, national security, and social conservatives absolutely must unite if we are going to win this election and take back the country.”