Inside Ted Cruz's Southern strategy

CLEVELAND -- On Friday morning, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz put out a list of 28 members of his "Georgia leadership team," led by state Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, making him the only Republican presidential candidate to be fully organized in the state.

He did the same later in the day for Alabama. Cruz embarks on a Southern tour starting today in South Carolina, but then is heavy on "SEC Primary" states. Cruz has four stops in Georgia (including the RedState Gathering on Saturday) and is visiting Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma as well.

Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler said by the end of the tour they expect to have 200 volunteer "leaders" signed up to help Cruz in the South. Not paid staffers, but "uber-activists," who are well known in their communities.

Tyler, who worked for Newt Gingrich's campaign and then Super PAC during the 2012 cycle, said during a quiet pre-debate moment that the Cruz campaign is doing this "because we can."

Tyler's argument is that the "establishment" side of the field is crowded with people like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio. The conservative/insurgent side has plenty of people, too -- but Cruz has more money than all of them. Tyler said the notion that a conservative can win Iowa, for example, and then raise and spend enough money to do well on March 1 does not fly.

"What happens is in the early states, a lot of people change horses or they don't really decide, because they know how to leverage the game. Not in these [SEC] states. When people decide, they decide.

"The idea is when people who advance beyond the early states get to the South, they’ll say ‘Ted Cruz has already been here. Ted Cruz has been here the whole time.’ We want to send that message to the SEC primary states that we take the South seriously."

The pitch worked for state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, who was named a "Georgia co-chairman" for the Cruz campaign.

McKoon said Cruz proved to be a true conservative who was “willing at times to buck party leadership when a matter of principle is at stake.” He also said the candidate will be a forceful advocate for conservative ideals.

“I believe he will be the strongest possible voice for conservatives on the stage with the Democratic nominee,” said McKoon.

The other candidates still plan to fight hard for Georgia and its neighbors. We'll see 10 GOP'ers at the RedState Gathering this weekend -- you need to bookmark this link for all our coverage -- and candidates like Bush, Rubio, and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have ties to the region.

Even Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is making a strong play. He announced Thursday that U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, will chair his Georgia campaign.

In the post-debate "spin room," Walker pollster Ed Goeas said crowds find the Kohl's-loving governor "approachable." That's one reason, Goeas said, "We find him to be very strong in the South."

Below is the full list of Cruz's Georgia backers:

- Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, Georgia Campaign Chairman

- Congressman Jody Hice- Georgia Campaign Chairman

- Sen. Mike Crane, Georgia Co-Chair

- Sen. Marty Harbin, Georgia Co-Chair

- Sen. William Ligon, Georgia Co-Chair

- Sen. Josh McKoon, Georgia Co-Chairman

- Kay Godwin, Georgia Grassroots Director

- Pat Tippett, Georgia Grassroots Coordinator

- Brant Frost V, Georgia Grassroots Coordinator

- Debra Giddens, 1st District Chair

- Rick Allen, 2nd District Chair

- Katherine Frost, 3rd District Chair

- Bronwyn Jennings, 4th District Chair

- James Edwards, 5th District Chair

- Katie Spee, 6th District Chair

- Judy Craft, 7th District Chair

- Gloria Alday, 8th District Chair

- Carol Mahoney, 9th District Chair

- Suzanne Hudgens, 10th District Chair

- Scott Johnson, 11th District Chair

- Lee Burton, 12th District Chair

- Rich Thompson, 13th District Chair and School Choice Coalition Chair

- Jim Beck, 14th District Chair and Faith Outreach Coordinator

- Joe McCutchen, Georgia Radio Coordinator

- Jan Horne, Georgia Visual Media Coordinator

- Teri Sasseville, Georgia Social Media Coordinator

- Gail Engelhardt, Georgia Social Media Coordinator

- Austin Mathis, Georgia Students for Cruz Coordinator

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