Cruz limps toward the finish line in Iowa

Out on the trail, the mojo is gone. Cruz spent much of Friday dropping in on remote villages in rural northwest Iowa, home to few caucus-goers and even fewer undecided voters. He began the day in Ringsted, a hamlet of 409 near the Minnesota border, where he had to fend off questions about his controversial ethanol position in a bar with cinder-block walls and Chivas Regal on tap.

At his next stop in Fenton, pop. 279, a van plastered with “Ted Cruz Can’t Be Trusted” parked outside his retail stop in a local restaurant. Cruz campaigns gamely, offering selfies for grandparents and fist-bumps for gradeschoolers. While supportive, his crowds were modest and restrained, more befitting a summer flirtation than a surging favorite…

Cruz fans worry the late drama could be a sign that he is fading. “I’m concerned,” says Nancy Brenner, a homemaker from Wallingford, Iowa. “We’ve gotten a lot of negative ads against him in the mail.” Trump’s slashing attacks on Cruz have taken a toll. Cruz remains the most popular figure in the field for conservative primary voters, despite (or more likely because of) his Washington solo act.

But his numbers have sank 16 points since mid-January, according to Gallup—a stretch that began with Trump’s broadsides against his citizenship and temperament. The campaign, which had long been content to coast in Trump’s wake, was slow to shift tactics and punch back. “It would have been nice,” King said, “if the Cruz super PACs had the right stuff in the can ready to go.”