Super Tuesday: Ted Cruz wins in home state of Texas and lives to fight another day

Mr Cruz was desperate to hold on to his home state amid an onslaught from Donald Trump

Senator Ted Cruz has clung to his home state of Texas and claimed an unexpected win in neighbouring Oklahoma at tonight’s Republican primary contest. Texas was the largest of the Super Tuesday trophies, with 155 delegates up for grabs, but even Mr Cruz’s projected 10-point triumph there will likely do little to halt the march of Donald Trump, who had already chalked up easy victories in at least half-a-dozen other states early in the night.

A win in the Lone Star state was considered crucial to keep the arch-conservative in a primary race increasingly dominated by Mr Trump and the party establishment’s last, best hope for an upset, Florida Senator Marco Rubio. His added success in Oklahoma, where a recent poll had put Mr Trump more than 10 points ahead, will augment Mr Cruz’s case for being the sole remaining GOP candidate capable of overcoming the belligerent billionaire.

Ted Cruz speaks at a campaign rally in Dallas, Texas

Speaking to supporters in Stafford, Texas, Mr Cruz appealed both to his rivals in the race and to the voters in upcoming primary states. “So long as the field remains divided, Donald Trump’s path to the nomination remains more likely – and that would be a disaster for Republicans, for conservatives and for the nation,” he said. “Our campaign is the only campaign that has beaten, that can beat and that will beat Donald Trump... For the candidates who have to yet won a state, who have not racked up significant delegates, I ask you to prayerfully consider our coming together [and] uniting.”

Compared to the previous expectations of the Cruz campaign, it was nonetheless a disappointing evening. Before Mr Trump began his irresistible rise to the role of Republican front-runner, the Texas Senator had hoped to capture multiple Southern states with the help of the evangelical Christian voters who make up his natural base.

Mr Cruz even went so far as to describe the South as a “firewall” of support that would power his insurgent presidential bid towards the GOP nomination.

Protesters Crash Ted Cruz's Hometown Rally in Houston

But the likes of Georgia, Alabama, Virginia and Tennessee instead fell, by comfortable margins, to the pugnacious New York property magnate, whom Mr Cruz described in his speech as “profane and vulgar,” adding: “America shouldn’t have a President whose words would make you embarrassed if your children repeated them.”

Mr Cruz benefited from a grassroots army of approximately 27,000 volunteers in Texas, and had earned the endorsements of both the state’s Republican Governor Greg Abbott and Mr Abbott’s predecessor, Rick Perry. On Sunday, however, he lost a key ally when Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, an immigration hard-liner and one of his rare friends in the US Senate, lent his support to Mr Trump.

Going into Super Tuesday, Mr Cruz was already the sole Republican to have bested Mr Trump in a primary race, winning the early state of Iowa. The Texas Senator has hammered the front-runner for his failure to release his tax returns, for hiring undocumented immigrants to build Trump Tower in New York, and over allegations that Mr Trump rolled back his anti-immigration rhetoric in a taped, off-the-record conversation with the New York Times editorial board.

Mr Cruz has also pointed out that Mr Rubio trails Mr Trump in his home state of Florida, which is set to vote on 15 March, in a bid to persuade his fellow Senator to withdraw from the contest. But the Texas Senator’s efforts to draw attention away from his rivals have proved futile in recent days, as Mr Trump and Mr Rubio exchanged schoolyard taunts on the stump.

The Cruz campaign, once considered ultra-disciplined, has also suffered from multiple accusations of dirty tricks. Last week, in the lead-up to the Nevada caucuses, Mr Cruz sacked his communications director, Rick Tyler, after Mr Tyler tweeted a video that wrongly purported to show Mr Rubio making a joke at the expense of the Bible. Mr Cruz touted Mr Tyler’s exit as evidence that his was the only major campaign acting honourably in the rough-and-tumble race to the nomination. Whether the voters believed him is another matter.