Raleigh, N.C. — Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz made two campaign stops in North Carolina on Tuesday as he scrambles to gain ground on front-runner Donald Trump.
The U.S. senator from Texas taped an interview with Fox News in front of hundreds of cheering, sign-waving supporters at Calvary Baptist Church south of Raleigh around noon and then headed to Kannapolis for a campaign rally at a church there.
A week before the March 15 primary, Cruz trails Trump by 14 points in a WRAL News poll released Tuesday. But after spending little time in the state in recent months, Cruz is now racing to fire up as many North Carolina voters as he can.
"North Carolina is tremendously important. North Carolina is a bellwether state," he said in Raleigh. "It’s neck and neck. North Carolina is going to have a decisive impact on this primary."
In Florida next Tuesday, Trump and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio are locked in a winner-take-all battle for 99 delegates to the Republican National Convention in July. Similarly, Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are battling for Ohio's 66 delegates in that state's primary next week.
North Carolina awards its delegates proportionally according to the order of finish in the primary, so even a strong second-place finish could give Cruz dozens of the state's 72 GOP delegates, which could prevent Trump from winning an outright majority of delegates before the convention.
"Our campaign, it has now been demonstrated, is the only campaign that has over and over again beaten Donald Trump and that can and will beat Donald Trump," he said. "If you don’t want to see Donald Trump as the nominee, and if you don’t want to see (Democratic front-runner) Hillary Clinton as the president, which is the inevitable result of Donald Trump being the nominee, come join us. Let us stand together."
During his interview with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, he painted Trump as dishonest and cynical, a member of the Washington establishment and a liberal in disguise. No live coverage of the event by other media was allowed.
Clayton pastor Anthony Claybourne, who was part of the crowd at Calvary Baptist, said he started off as a Trump supporter but is now firmly behind Cruz.
"When it first started out, it was kind of like we felt (Trump) was saying things that needed to be said, and then he was saying things like, whoa, nobody should say those things," Claybourne said.
Trump, who campaigned in Concord on Monday, has a Fayetteville rally scheduled for Wednesday night.