Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on Saturday urged voters to coalesce around his candidacy as the only way to stop front-runner Donald Trump in the Republican race for president.
“Donald Trump is not the best candidate to go head to head with Hillary Clinton,” he told a cheering crowd of more than 1,000 people at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Kansas City. “If Trump is the nominee, Hillary wins.”
Cruz told the audience that polling shows the race is close in Missouri, one of five states holding primaries Tuesday.
“Our country is in crisis,” Cruz said. “And help is on the way.”
Cruz spoke in the early afternoon, several hours before Trump spoke at a rally downtown that was marked by protests and crowds that were pepper-sprayed by police.
Cruz emphasized job creation during his 25-minute address, and he said the tilt of the U.S. Supreme Court would be threatened if a Democrat won the White House. He promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act and abolish the Internal Revenue Service.
The Republican made no mention of Friday’s melee in Chicago, when a Trump speech was canceled following several threatening exchanges between his supporters and protesters.
Security was evident during the Cruz speech but not overbearing. There were no protests inside the meeting room.
In a news conference with reporters following the speech, Cruz said that the Chicago protesters acted improperly but that Trump may be exacerbating the problem.
“As we campaign, we have protesters,” Cruz said. “Unlike Donald Trump, I don’t ask people in the audience to punch them in the face. I don’t ask them to engage in physical violence against the protesters.”
After Cruz’s plane left Kansas City, it had a landing gear problem, Police Chief Darryl Forté tweeted. The plane returned to the airport, the problem was fixed and Cruz left again.
Cruz planned four stops in Missouri on Saturday.
Three other major presidential candidates were in Missouri on Saturday or planning events in the state. In addition to Trump, Hillary Clinton was meeting with supporters in St. Louis, while Sen. Bernie Sanders was in Springfield and planned other stops.
The attention may reflect the unique nature of the state’s primary. Unlike the four other states voting that day, Missouri doesn’t have an early voting option. That means the vast majority of the state’s voters still have time to make up their minds.
Cruz supporters don’t have that problem.
“He will defend our Constitution,” said Debbie Wooster of Independence. “He defends religious liberty.”
Kent Dobson of Raytown said Republicans had several good choices this year, but Cruz “seems to have held the line for us in Congress.”
A poll released Friday showed Trump leading the pack in Missouri with 36 percent support, 7 percentage points ahead of Cruz. Clinton leads Sanders by the same margin.
But the margin of error in both polls shows the races are too close to call.
There are 52 Republican delegates at stake in Tuesday’s Missouri primary. Seventy-one Democratic delegates will be allocated based on the state’s results Tuesday.
Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Marco Rubio trail far behind in the Republican race in Missouri. Both are campaigning in their home states this weekend, where they must prevail in order to continue their candidacies.