Local supporters of Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz admit he's highly unlikely to win next Tuesday's New York Primary. But they believe he is still capable of grabbing a few delegates from GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
Polls released this week show Trump holding comfortable leads over Cruz and fellow Republican challenger John Kasich. Trump supporters are predicting their candidate will sweep the delegates available in New York. But Cruz's local backers believe he'll fare better next week than what the numbers suggest.
"I may be a minority in this, but I think Cruz will do a lot better than people think," said local Cruz supporter and spokesman Russ Gugino. "Donald Trump is polling at about 52 or 53 percent. That means if he gets down under 50 percent, he's going to lose delegates. And if Cruz can get above 20 (points), he's going to gain delegates. I think both of those things can happen."
To chip away at Trump's big New York lead, Cruz suggested during his Thursday town hall meeting at the University at Buffalo North Campus that handing Trump the Republican nomination would all but assure a comfortable victory for Hillary Clinton in November.
"The idea that a vote for Trump amounts to a vote for Hillary, that Trump will lose as Cruz said by double-digit figures in the general election, I think might cause some Trump supporters to rethink their support," said Dr. James Campbell of UB's Department of Political Science.
Cruz immediately took on a question about his "New York values" comment, explaining to the town hall audience that what he meant was liberal Democrat policies from downstate that have hurt the upstate economy. Cruz made several Western New York references, opening with a remark that many times on the campaign trail, he has consumed Buffalo's famous culinary contribution, chicken wings.
Cruz told the audience that people know what he means when he speaks of New York values. Gugino believes Cruz has overcome the backlash.
"Don't forget he also mentioned Jack Kemp," said Gugino. "He also mentioned that he was an admirer of Jack Kemp and, of course, this is Jack Kemp country.
"By talking about lowering taxes, having the tax rate at 10 percent, having the first $36,000 tax-exempt, that kind of message is going to resonate in Western New York and throughout the state."
At Gugino's side during the Cruz town hall meeting was Anthony Gioia, The former local businessman and U.S. Ambassador to Malta under George W. Bush previously supported presidential candidate Marco Rubio. After Rubio dropped out of the race, Gioia shifted his support to Cruz. He admitted that he met Cruz in person for the first time at the town hall event, but he's been impressed by his message and his character.
Gioia even suggested that Cruz is getting a bad rap for what many perceive to be a less than favorable personality.
"He was very good and very human," Gioia said. "The perception he gets in some circles is that he's very rigid and not very likeable. That's just not the case."