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Republican Presidential Hopefuls All Want A Slice Of The Texas Primary Pie

Gus Contreras
This T-shirt was for sale at a Donald Trump rally in Fort Worth.

Texas used to be considered an easy grab for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. And while the state’s delegates are definitely not out of reach on Tuesday, there are some primary voters slipping through his fingers. 

People like Dallasite and millennial Bonnie Ohlig.

“I just relate to Rubio the most out of each candidate,” she says.

Recent polls show Sen. Marco Rubio is in third place in Texas. But Ohlig says Rubio is a next-generation conservative who can fire people up.  

“I like the ads where he’s playing football,” she says. “We like to see someone with energy and passion and maybe that’s the difference.”

Rubio brought that energy to Dallas’ Klyde Warren Park on Friday. He spent several minutes going after that other candidate who wants to take a bite out of Texas: Donald Trump.

“Friends don’t let friends vote for con artists,” Rubio said.  

Confidence is something Trump slathered on supporters in Fort Worth Friday afternoon. He reminded the enormous crowd he’s self-funding his campaign and repeated his pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Ramona Rivera and her friend Cecilia Turner are enthusiastic about Trump. Turner says a wall is the way to fix illegal immigration.  

“It’s not about hate or racism because racism is everywhere,” Turner says. “So that’s why I’m voting for Trump -- so they can build a wall and do it the right way.”

Still, Texans who support Cruz seem confident he’ll win Tuesday’s primary.

“We feel very strongly that this is Ted Cruz country and that we’re doing very well,” says Texas State Sen. Konni Burton.  

But everyone can’t win, can they? Under Texas rules, three candidates could go home with a slice of the primary pie. 

“It’s going to depend on the percentage of votes that they get,” says Rebecca Deen, chair of the political science department at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Deen says Texas is unique because it isn’t a winner-takes-all state. A candidate has to get at least 20 percent of the vote to get any delegates -- to collect all 155, a candidate would have to win more than 50 percent of the vote. 

“Senator Cruz most likely will get above that 20 percent threshold,” Deen says. “We also expect Mr. Trump will do well. The question is: How well does Rubio do and does that eat into any of Cruz’s support?” 

Deen says Rubio could top 20 percent, especially since Jeb Bush rode off into the sunset. Ohlig, the Rubio supporter, sees similarities between the two Florida politicians.

“I think that the same values that go into Bush, I think people will see that in Rubio,” Ohlig says.

Deen says the biggest variable could be voter turnout. Low turnout usually helps the best organized politician, which in this case would be Cruz. He’s had thousands of volunteers on the ground, knocking on doors and making calls for months.

If early voting results are any indication of turnout though, it could be a record year.

“At least in Tarrant County, the first day broke records," Deen says. "Of course we don’t know for whom those folks have voted but it does suggest turnout will be at least on par if not high this particular cycle.”

More than a million Texans cast early votes. On Tuesday night, we’ll see how the Republican candidates divvy up the super-sized prize that is Texas. 

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.