There were cow bells ringing and ringtones dinging on Monday as Republican Ted Cruz launched a six-day tour of Iowa that showcased his love for campaigning and his status as the state's front-runner.
With Iowa's presidential caucuses less than a month away, Cruz barnstormed across central and western sections of the state by bus, making five stops of the 28 planned this week. The events, all in small towns, attracted hundreds of excited and committed supporters—but not thousands like the prime-time rallies headlined by national front-runner Donald Trump.
"I want to ask every one of you here to come out and vote for me 10 times," Cruz told a packed back dining room at the Prime Time Restaurant in Guthrie Center, Iowa. "If each and every one of you gets nine additional people to come out and caucus on Feb. 1, you will have just voted 10 times. That is how we win."
At an evening stop in Winterset, the candidate highlighted a new campaign initiative called "Homeschoolers for Cruz" that his campaign said represents more than 6,600 members nationwide, including 82 leaders in Iowa. Parents who teach their children at home were a key part of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee's winning 2008 caucus coalition.
Cruz appeared at his dinnertime event with James Dobson, founder of the conservative Focus on the Family group and someone who has endorsed his candidacy.
While Cruz's appearances were heavily scripted, there were impromptu moments that highlighted the Princeton University debater's ability to think on his feet—and have some fun.
"I ask for your prayers that we stand as one because this is our time," Cruz had just finished saying inside a small religious bookstore in Boone, Iowa, where more than 100 people were packed in to see him. Then, someone's cell phone chimed with a ringtone from the western movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Cruz smiled and the audience broke into laughter at the phone's awkward interruption of the candidate's call to prayer. "If only I looked something like Clint Eastwood," he said, before incorporating a quote from the movie star into his next line. "But I will say this, to everyone in Washington, when you hang a man, make sure to hang him high."
Throughout the day, Cruz's audiences were heavy on seniors, who have more time during the day to attend political events. They're also a good demographic to have cornered in Iowa, where 2012 entrance polls showed more than a quarter of those who caucused as Republicans were 65 or older.
Representative Steve King, the most conservative member of Iowa's congressional delegation and a Cruz backer, traveled with the candidate throughout the day. At a stop in Carroll, where more than 100 people packed into the Swizzle Stick Bar & Lounge for a midday event where a man repeatedly rang a cow bell when Cruz hit on a conservative theme, King compared the Texan to Republican legend Ronald Reagan and said he checks "all the boxes" for conservatives.
"This might be the beginning of a new era, like that one," King said of Reagan's rallying of conservatives in the 1980s. "I pray that it is."
John Flanagan, 66, a retired co-owner of a retail lumber business from Carroll, was typical of those at the Cruz events on Monday.
"He has some conservative values and he's very intelligent," he said. "He's for the Second Amendment and prayers in school."
Prior to Cruz's speech, he said he was leaning toward supporting the Texan in the caucuses. After the event, he leaned over to his interviewer: "I'm sold," he said.
As she waited to hear Cruz speak at another event in Guthrie Center, Jeanne Haverman, 63, a "life coach" who lives in Bayard, Iowa, told a reporter she had already decided to support him. "He stands for everything we believe that will help our country, starting with values and morals," she said.
Not everyone was so welcoming. At every stop, Cruz was shadowed by representatives from America’s Renewable Future, a pro-ethanol group that opposes Cruz and is led by Eric Branstad, the son of Iowa Republican Governor Terry Branstad. The group, which held signs and distributed literature near Cruz's event's, has pledged to shadow him all week at every stop.
Cruz's opposition to the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, which sets the minimum amount of corn-based ethanol and other biofuels that must be included in the nation's gasoline supply, has made him the prime target of ethanol supporters. Iowa is the nation's top corn and ethanol producer.