Ted Cruz catapulted to frontrunner status in Iowa on Saturday night in a new poll, giving the Texas senator 31 percent of the GOP support in the state and placing him now 10 percentage points ahead of Donald Trump.
In the new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll, Cruz, considered the new evangelical favorite, leapfrogged the candidate he has continually avoided to cross paths with throughout the campaign.
The poll, conducted by longtime, respected Iowa pollster Ann Selzer, is seen as a bellwether for the state of the race, where voters will get the first chance at picking the Republican nominee at the Iowa caucus in less than two months on Feb. 1.
Bryan English, Cruz’s Iowa state director, cautioned “this is just one poll,” but said the results are a testament to the resources the campaign has invested in Iowa as well as Cruz’s message.
“From the beginning of this campaign, we’ve talked about uniting courageous conservatives to reignite the promise of America and keep our nation safe,” “We have more work to do, but we can definitively say the message is working.”
Cruz’s rise marks a 21 percent improvement from the same poll taken in mid-October. He now sits atop with 31 percent of support compared to Trump’s 21 percent. And an additional 20 percent indicated that Cruz would be their second choice.
Since October, Cruz has wrapped up a collection of big endorsements, including influential radio personality Steve Deace, U.S. Rep. Steve King and Bob Vander Plaats, a social-conservative, evangelical leader in the state.
But striking from the poll is the Trump and Cruz’s combined majority of support in the still large Republican field. Ted Cruz has consistently refused to criticize the real estate mogul, calling him a “good friend” and refusing to “blast” him. Cruz’s tactic runs in deep contrast to a Republican field that has struggled to gain traction despite efforts to knock Trump from the top of the polls.
Related: Trump Goes After Cruz in Iowa
But in the last two weeks, Cruz — Trump’s closest ally — took his first steps toward offering up a contrast to the wildcard candidate, saying two weeks ago in Iowa that he didn’t believe Trump would become president and that he “did not agree” with his plan to temporarily ban the immigration of Muslims into the U.S.
Trump, after first offering praise for Cruz, fired back on Friday night — although in a gentler manner than his past attacks on other GOP rivals.
“The one guy that’s going pretty good with me in Iowa is Ted Cruz. He’s a nice guy,” Trump told a town hall in Des Moines. “But with the ethanol, really it’s — he’s got to come a long way cause he’s right now for the oil.”
The attack was intended to hit Cruz for his opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is seen as a major economic boon for Iowa corn farmers. It requires the U.S. fuel supply to use a certain amount of ethanol.
Trump also on Friday night foreshadowed a poor polling result, telling the crowd: “Every time the Des Moines Register does a poll, I always do badly.” He added, “I only like polls that treat me well.”
The mid-October Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll placed Trump at a nine-point disadvantage to Ben Carson at the time.
Selzer cautioned to NBC News last week that there is still much at stake over the next month and a half before suggesting this is how the GOP race will conclude.
The poll released today said that just 33 percent of Iowa Republicans have already made up their minds, leaving two-thirds still to be swayed.
“Anything could and likely will happen before caucus night. Things happen in the polls in even the final four days in the field,” Selzer said last week. “The assignment Iowa is given is to look at the field. And there’s no advantage to lock in, so why would they?”
Last week, Cruz credited his steady rise in the polls to on the ground organization the campaign has put in place in the state.
“I think this is, this is really the fruits of work that we have been doing for eight months now, systematically doing the long slow steady work of building a grassroots army,” Cruz said in South Carolina.
In just the last two months, Cruz has hit 41 campaign stops across the state, vying to visit all 99 counties in Iowa by caucus night. And the Cruz operation in Iowa continues to hire new field organizers and build up its robust volunteer program.
Meanwhile, Ben Carson took a heavy hit in the polling, dropping from 29 percent in mid-October to 13 percent, amid questions among Republicans over his grasp on foreign policy.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio now stands at 10 percent – and the rest of the field finds themselves still in single digits, including Jeb Bush (6 percent), Chris Christie (3 percent), Rand Paul (3 percent) and Mike Huckabee (3 percent). John Kasich gathered two percent and Carly Fiorina and Rick Santorum register with just one percent.
The Trump campaign insists it will still ultimately have the highest turnout of support on caucus night, rendering the polls ineffective.
“These polls are always flawed. It’s like finding a lot of needles in a haystack. They don’t know who is going to turn out,” said Chuck Laudner, Trump’s Iowa state director, to NBC News Friday night, prior to the poll’s release. Laudner disputed that polls accurately account for the number of Iowans who will ultimately turn out on caucus night for Trump.
“It’s very, very hard to poll. We’ve always been comfortable — whatever our number is you can add to exponentially,” Laudner said. “You don’t get crowds like this at a town hall. No one has ever seen it before, so it cannot be diminished.”
This is the second time Trump has polled second in a string of Iowa polls — the first coming in mid-October when respondents placed Carson as the Hawkeye State’s favorite.
Shortly after the release of those polls, Trump let loose in a flurry of attacks in Sioux City, Iowa, against Carson. And Trump told the Iowa voters then to get him back to the top, pleading, “Will you get the numbers up, Iowa, please? This is ridiculous. I mean what is my competition?”