Ted Cruz's allies know that if the Texas senator is to win the Republican presidential nomination, he must make a stand in South Carolina.
Keep The Promise PAC, the umbrella organization for a cluster of pro-Cruz super-PACs, is hiring 14 full-time field directors and county organizers in the Palmetto State, the group is expected to announce Monday.
A former South Carolina state director for Scott Walker’s presidential campaign, Dan Tripp, will lead the new team, which will be tasked with building a statewide voter-outreach operation between now and the nation’s first-in-the-South primary contest on Feb. 20.
The hires represent the biggest ground-game investment to date for any of the pro-Cruz super-PACs, which still have tens of millions of dollars in the bank. At a moment when polls show Cruz gaining momentum in the Republican primary fight, his campaign and allies say South Carolina is imperative to winning the nomination, due in no small part to the number of evangelical voters who live there.
“It's a gateway to a bunch of the March states, especially the South,” said Tripp, who recruited other former Walker campaign staff to join the effort. “This is a springboard straight into the southern primaries.”
Cruz’s campaign, which cannot legally coordinate with super-PACs, is also expected to hire more South Carolina staff in the coming weeks. The Texas senator has made the state a regular stop on the campaign trail and plans to return in December. His wife, Heidi, will campaign in South Carolina during the week after Thanksgiving.
Similar to other national and state polls around the country, Cruz ranked fourth in a South Carolina Monmouth University poll this month with 9 percent, nearly doubling his support since August. Cruz trailed Ben Carson at 28 percent, Donald Trump at 27 percent, and Marco Rubio at 11 percent in that poll, which had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Keep the Promise has not ruled out running TV ads in South Carolina at some point, but suggests spending resources on airtime is not an immediate priority.
“We're not going to sit back and get out organized,” said Tripp, who described his focus on crowd building, door knocking, voter identification, and enlisting county and city organizers around the state.
Keep The Promise’s network of four super-PACs raised a combined $38 million in the first half of this year, more than any groups supporting other candidates besides Jeb Bush. It includes Keep the Promise I, which spent $1 million on radio ads this fall. This summer, the group, bankrolled by $11 million from New York hedge fund investor Robert Mercer, also signed up the son of conservative Iowa Congressman Steve King, Jeff King, to run the super-PAC’s Iowa operation, which has a half-dozen people on staff.
Other groups such as Keep the Promise II (funded by $10 million from Texas private equity investor Toby Neugebauer) and Keep the Promise III (which received $15 million from a Texas family with ties to fracking) have not come close to spending their cash on hand this cycle, giving the Cruz allies a potential rainy day fund for a race that could continue late into next spring.