Cruz has a long way to go, and is already showing signs of trouble. But, could he be the one to consolidate?
Cruz must win Iowa if he wants to have any hope of going anywhere. Iowa has a large demographic of Evangelicals in the pool of potential Republican caucus goers. Cruz needs this base as well as a strong portion of "establishment crowd" and the " no college degree crowd" to win here. If Carson continues to fall or drop out, this task becomes easier for Cruz. If Bush, Carson or Rubio start building up support here, Cruz will be unable to win.
While Sanders has no realistic shot at winning next year, if he would have a chance, it would have to start with him winning both Iowa and New Hampshire. Right now, neither of those two are sure bets. Clinton has a sizable lead in Iowa and she is trading back and forth small leads in New Hampshire. Beyond these two states, Clinton dominates. Super Tuesday is her firewall. She pretty much has states like South Carolina locked up with her strong support in the African American community.
While Cruz is making progress here in doubling his support since the end of October, Trump still has a solid lead and a floor of about 25% that will make it very difficult for Cruz to surpass him without consolidating the support from Fiorina, Carson, Huckabee and Bush. Carson is helping out Cruz right now with his continued free-fall. We have yet to see a surging candidate be able to sustain support for long enough to surpass Trump. Cruz may have a better shot than Carson did, but it is an arduous task.
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