Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016 | 11:31 p.m.
After a virtual tie for second place in South Carolina, the message from Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz to his Nevada supporters Sunday was clear: Don't surrender.
“The media wants us to give up. The media wants to convince everyone here it's hopeless. It cannot change America's laws. Accept it and move on,” Cruz said to a packed room of several hundred enthusiastic supporters.
With every sentence, his supporters shouted back a resounding, “No.”
“Let me tell you: It took Jimmy Carter to give us Ronald Reagan,” Cruz continued. “And I am convinced that the most long-lasting legacy of Barack Obama is going to be a new generation of leaders in the Republican Party.”
Front-runner Donald Trump won a decisive victory Saturday night in South Carolina, leaving Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to share an uncomfortably close second place. With polls placing Trump 16 to 26 points ahead of the other candidates, Cruz and Rubio are expected to again battle it out for second place Tuesday in Nevada’s Republican caucuses. Rubio also hit the campaign trail Sunday in the Las Vegas Valley and drew key endorsements from Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., while Trump traveled to Georgia ahead of appearances scheduled Monday in Las Vegas and Elko.
But if the crowd Sunday night at the Henderson Convention Center was disappointed with Cruz's standing in the polls, they didn't display it.
“He’s common sense and he’s brilliant and he knows what the Constitution is all about,” said Henderson resident Doris Roush, adding that she would caucus Tuesday for the senator. “I’m for Cruz, no question.”
Standing in front of a banner that read “return our land,” Cruz noted that 85 percent of Nevada’s land is owned by the federal government, prompting emphatic boos from the crowd.
“The land of Nevada needs to be owned by the state of Nevada — even better, the people of Nevada should have control,” Cruz said.
The Texas senator also drew comparisons between himself and Reagan, saying Washington despised the late president at one time.
“All across this country, millions of Americans rose up and became the Reagan revolution,” Cruz said. “Why am I so optimistic? The same thing is happening now.”
Earlier in the night, Attorney General Adam Laxalt made the same comparison. He praised Cruz for having “a Reagan-like vision” on foreign policy and, like Reagan, being “willing to be a consistent, unyielding conservative.”
But national radio host Glenn Beck disagreed.
“I don’t think Cruz is the next Ronald Reagan. We don’t need a Ronald Reagan. We need a Ted Cruz,” Beck said. “The time for Reagan was 1980. The time for Ted Cruz is now.”
In a wide-ranging stump speech, Cruz promised to undo Obama’s executive orders on immigration, open a federal investigation into Planned Parenthood, end religious persecution, “rip to shreds” the nuclear deal with Iran and move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“And that’s day one,” he added.
But none of that could be accomplished without his supporters’ help, he said, encouraging each attendee to bring people with them to the caucus.
“I ask every one of you to come out and vote for me 10 times,” Cruz said. “We’re not Democrats — I’m not suggesting voter fraud. But if each one of you brings nine other people Tuesday night, you will have voted 10 times.”
Most rally attendees on Sunday night seemed firm in their support for Cruz: They said that he was the person for the job — some going so far as to say they wouldn’t trust anyone else with it.
“I won’t be voting for the other Republican candidates,” said Sharon Charters, 64, who lives in Green Valley. “(Rubio) lied about Ted Cruz, and I think Donald Trump is a thin-skinned egomaniac.”
The Sunday evening rally closed out the first of three days of Cruz appearances in the state. Earlier in the day, he appeared in front of a raucous crowd of about 400 supporters in Pahrump.
“America is ready for a principled, dedicated constitutionalist,” Cruz said to roaring applause and shouting from the crowd, in the parking lot of Pahrump’s Draft Picks Sports Bar.
Standing in the bed of a black Ford 150 pickup truck, Cruz touched on First and Second Amendment rights, pointing to his record of defending gun rights and religious freedom in the Senate.
“The persecution of religious liberty ends today,” Cruz said. “We also need to defend the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.”
Cruz said growth in the American economy would start with nurturing small businesses, and that tax cuts would help future Americans avoid being the first generation to have a lower quality of life than their parents.
“If you want to turn down unemployment, you have to have growth," he said.
At least three hecklers tried to disrupt the Pahrump rally, and one person was removed by police.
“I didn’t know they were allowing Bernie Sanders supporters in today,” Cruz joked.
But the majority of the Pahrump rally attendees were supportive of the senator.
Wearing a white shirt with the American stars and stripes on his shoulders, Joe Abrams, 80, stood with wife Patricia, 76, for over an hour before Cruz arrived.
Abrams, who said he spent more than 20 years in the Air Force, including two years fighting in the Vietnam War, lauded Cruz's commitment to "getting things done" in the Senate.
"I'm skeptical about most of these politicians," Abrams said. "But I think Cruz is honest, and I think he's going to stick with it."
Carla Wilson and her husband, Simon Wilson, both 54, stopped in Pahrump on their way home from Las Vegas to Incline Village, Nev., on Lake Tahoe.
The Wilsons said they supported Cruz partly because they believed he was an "anti-establishment" candidate, a perception based on Cruz's general unpopularity among his Senate candidates. Cruz also would have the best chance to beat Hillary Clinton in the general election, they said.
"I like that nobody likes him in Washington," Carla Wilson said. "He's anti-establishment, and he actually does what he says he's going to do."
Today, Cruz will attend a Summerlin rally in the late morning, then head north for rallies in Elko and Reno. On Tuesday, he plans to stump in Fernley, Douglas County and Carson City before returning to Las Vegas for a post-caucus rally.