Iowa caucus winners who secure victory by galvanizing evangelicals and highly conservative voters don’t have the best track record thereafter, as both Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum can attest.
So it might have been strange to see Senator Ted Cruz doubling down in his victory speech Tuesday in Des Moines by exhorting “to God be the glory.” He peppered Bible passages throughout his address, and continued to outline an uncompromising right-wing agenda.
But, as always, Cruz knows what he’s doing. The GOP primary calendar dictates that even if Cruz was inclined to moderate after Iowa—which given everything we know about him, and his ideological donors, he is not—the smart play for Cruz is to keep driving a hard sell to the conservative base of the GOP.
The real bounty of delegates for Cruz is on March 1, when the first multi-state voting day of the Republican primary is dominated by six Southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Oklahoma also votes that day, and Louisiana and Kentucky vote four days later.
The so-called SEC elections, named after the collegiate athletic Southeastern Conference, are a new feature. The GOP nominating process has typically placed very little emphasis on the Deep South—the Georgia secretary of state believes the last Republican candidate to attend his state’s convention was Barry Goldwater. But that changed last year when several Southern secretaries of state banded together and demanded a larger voice. They got it, and nearly one-quarter of all the GOP delegates are up for grabs on SEC primary day (595 of the 2,470).
This has been a fortuitous development for Cruz, whose highly religious and deeply conservative message is a perfect fit for the deep South. And he recognized it from the start. A senior Cruz strategist told National Review they only planned to win one of the first four contests (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina) and Cruz told a Koch donor summit last year that the SEC primary would be his “firewall.”