With 4 visits next week, Cruz hopes to make TN part of his Southern ‘firewall’

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz now has four stops scheduled in a planned trip through Tennessee on Aug. 10 to promote himself as the Republican presidential nominee, all at county GOP gatherings. It’s apparently part of a Southern ‘firewall’ stragegy, as reported today by the Washington Post.

Cruz plans to spend a good chunk of the August recess traveling by bus around the South, including South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Several of these states will hold primaries on March 1 in a regional primary that has been dubbed the SEC Primary after the Southeastern Conference in college football. March 1 is the first date that non-early states are allowed to schedule their contests. A candidate who wins then might get momentum going into the winner-take-all contests that begin March 15.

“I view the SEC primary as a firewall,” Cruz confided to the audience.

He explained that the first states are “critical” — that he is still playing to win in Iowa — but that Republican National Committee rules going into effect for the first time in 2016 have “sped up the process.”

The Cruz campaign website Friday posted plans for a “biscuits and gravy” breakfast in Chattanooga on the morning of Aug. 10, followed by a “taste of homecoming” luncheon in Murfreesboro and an afternoon “Southern sweets meet and greet” at Brentwood, Tenn. The Jackson Sun had previously reported Cruz has plans for an evening dinner event at Jackson on the same day.

As previously reported, other planned Tennessee visits by Republican presidential candidates include a Jeb Bush fundraiser Tuesday in Williamson County and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s Aug. 23 appearance at a fundraiser for state Tennessee Sen. Jack Johnson in Williamson County. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, has a fundraising event in Williamson County on Aug. 27. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Donald Trump have both accepted invitations to attend a National Federation of Republican Assemblies. forum later this month in Nashville, according to The Tennessean, but the exact dates and details of their appearances have not been announced.

The fundraiser for Bush is being co-hosted by Jim Haslam, founder of the Pilot Flying J chain of truck stops and gas stations. He and son Jimmy Haslam, Pilot Flying J CEO, are both publicly supporting the former Florida governor’s presidential bid while Jim Haslam’s second son, Gov. Bill Haslam, has decided to stay out of the GOP presidential primary for 2016 — though he joined his father, brother and other Haslam family members in backing Mitt Romney for the nomination in both 2008 and 2012.

The governor, who is current chairman of the national Republican Governors Association, will apparently not be endorsing anyone this year for the GOP nomination, spokeswoman Laura Hertzog said in an email.

“With four current and five former Republican governors seeking the nomination, the governor doesn’t feel it would be appropriate to endorse while he is serving as chairman of the Republican Governors Association,” she said in an email.

Note: See also Politico’s story on the Cruz Southern bus trip. An excerpt is below.

Cruz advisers say they’re not only vigorously competing in the early states, but already organizing the so-called SEC states (a nickname from college sports’ Southeastern Conference), with advertising planned through March 15.

An adviser said the objective of the bus trip is “to ensure that by the time other candidates get to the March 1 voting states following early state voting, Ted Cruz will have his support shored up, energized, organized, and ready to compete and expand.”

The tour will stop in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

“The clear message is that as a Texan, Ted Cruz is paying attention to the region and will demonstrate his commitment to gain their support long before anyone else gets there,” the adviser added.

“The Cruz campaign believes that Bush, Walker and Rubio have made a flawed political calculation to compete in the establishment bracket and, therefore, position themselves as moderates in the race, leaving Cruz as the only well-funded conservative candidate.”

The Cruz adviser continued with a football analogy: “Cruz could run to the left — and face Bush, Walker, and Rubio — or run to the right, and face Carson, Huckabee, Santorum, and Jindal.

“As the best organized and funded candidate in the conservative lane (he raised more hard dollars that any other candidate including Bush), after the early states, Cruz can quickly consolidate conservative support and go head-to-head with whoever emerges as the choice of the establishment.”