Ted Cruz looked to expand upon his base of support in Illinois on Friday, portraying himself to party regulars in Chicago and the Northwest suburbs as the only candidate who had the delegates and the ability to overtake Donald Trump.
“Maybe you started out supporting Jeb Bush, or Chris Christie, maybe even now you’re thinking of supporting Marco Rubio or John Kasich,” the Texas senator said of the crowded Republican primary field, which has thinned considerably in recent weeks.
Headlining the Northwest Suburban Republican Lincoln Day Dinner in Rolling Meadows Friday night, Cruz called his rival candidates “good, decent men and women, people I respect and admire.
“But none of them is in the position to beat Donald Trump and win the Republican nomination.”
“Join us,” he urged. “Come stand together as one.”
The Lincoln Day Dinner is an annual event hosted by more than a half dozen suburban township GOP organizations. Earlier Friday, Cruz spoke at a closed-door Illinois Republican fundraiser at the Palmer House in Chicago.
The sold-out Meadows Club event, at $120 a plate, was far more genteel and intimate setting than Trump’s aborted rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion.
Cruz said it was a “sad day” at UIC, but placed the much of the blame on Trump’s rhetoric, which he says has helped incite violence.
Cruz said Illinois is a full-fledged battleground state this election cycle, even though other GOP candidates, like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, are concentrating primarily on the usual battlegrounds, like Ohio.
“Illinois is used to being neglected by Republicans,” he said.
While a number of former Jeb Bush supporters have gotten behind Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, others are up for grabs between Cruz and Kasich.
“The jury’s still out,” said Hanover Park Mayor Rod Craig, a former Bush delegate, about whom he will back now. “If Rubio could get back on track I think he’d make a great candidate.”
State Rep. Tom Morrison, of Palatine, is an alternate delegate for Rubio but said it was “seeming more and more like a race where Cruz was the most viable candidate to get the requisite number of delegates needed be number two.”
Elk Grove Township Committeeman Mike Sweeney said the Lincoln Day dinner organization reached out to all the candidates in the crowded GOP primary field last fall, and Cruz was the first to respond.
Later Friday evening, rumors began circulating at the Lincoln Day dinner that Trump might attend. He did not, and sources said while the Trump campaign offered to have him come to Rolling Meadows, the offer was “politely declined.”