Republican Cruz taps homeschool niche in battle for Texas


Texas Primary May Be Cruz' Last Stand

Feb 29 (Reuters) - If Republican Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz lands a win in the nominating contest in his home state of Texas on Tuesday, part of the credit will go to support from a small and often overlooked interest group: homeschoolers.

The U.S. Senator's campaign has invested months of effort courting the well-organized network of families who educate their children at home - often to avoid constraints on religion in public school - in the hopes they can keep a big chunk of conservative voters away from his rivals, billionaire Donald Trump and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

SEE MORE: COMPLETE 2016 ELECTION COVERAGE FROM AOL.com

"They were crucial to our win in Iowa and will be in Texas (as well)," said Cruz campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier, referring to Cruz's only victory in a string of four contests for the party's presidential nomination so far that have otherwise been swept by Trump.

The Cruz campaign has used its message of religious liberty and small government to draw some 6,670 members to its "Homeschoolers for Cruz" coalition in recent months - many of whom campaign on his behalf.

See Ted Cruz through the years:

10 PHOTOS
Ted Cruz through the years, with family
See Gallery
Republican Cruz taps homeschool niche in battle for Texas
UNITED STATES - MARCH 21: Ted Cruz (R) Texas (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call)
U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz arrives for a luncheon near the state Republican convention, Friday, June 8, 2012, in Fort Worth, Texas. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)
U.S. Senate candidate candidate Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, wave to delegates after he spoke on the final day of the state Republican convention at the FWCC on Saturday, June 9, 2012, in Fort Worth, Texas. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, speaks at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. Cruz was scheduled to speak on the scope of treaty power in the U.S. Constitution. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
LYNCHBURG, VA - MARCH 23: Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) stands on stage his his daughter, Catherine Cruz, 4, left, his wife, Heidi Cruz, and his older sister, Caroline Cruz, 6, right, after he made a speech announcing his candidacy for a presidential bid at Liberty University on Monday March 23, 2015 in Lynchburg, VA.(Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz sits on the edge of the stage with his young daughter Catherine during a commercial break at the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX ) and his family acknowledge the crowd at Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa, January 23, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-TX) appears with his daughters Caroline and Catherine at a campaign event at Zaharakos Ice Cream Shop in Columbus, Indiana, U.S., April 25, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and former 2016 presidential candidate, takes the stage with his family during the 2016 Texas Republican Convention in Dallas, Texas, U.S., on Saturday, May 14, 2016. Paul Ryan made clear Thursday that he is sticking with his extraordinary gambit that he isn't ready to support the Republican nominee for president unless Donald Trump can demonstrate that he's Republican enough. Photographer: Laura Buckman/Bloomberg via Getty Images
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"One thing to understand about homeschoolers is we are all networked," said Ken Cuccinelli, a member of Homeschoolers for Cruz and an occasional campaign surrogate.

He said the group has used email pleas, door-knocking, and old-fashioned word-of-mouth to win votes. "The real rock stars are the teenagers. They have so much energy... And work ethic. They just churn through work like us old people don't."

Cruz's campaign is betting that support like that will help him secure a win in Texas - the biggest prize among the 12 states holding Republican nominating contests on Super Tuesday.

Texas has 155 delegates and a big win for Cruz could potentially shift the balance of the race to decide who will be the Republican nominee at the Nov. 8 presidential election. Trump currently has 82 delegates to Cruz's 17.

Only around 3.5 percent of schoolchildren in the United States are homeschooled. But the families that endorse homeschooling can have outsized political influence in some states and are often conservative.

Many proponents of homeschooling share two important traits: a bent toward religion and a tendency to carefully guard against education policy changes that could affect them personally.

"(Cruz) is going to make sure that the federal government will not infringe on what we believe is our God-given right," said Will Estrada, a Virginia-based co-chair of Homeschoolers for Cruz and a lawyer at the Home School Legal Defense Association - which does not typically endorse candidates before the general election.

CRUZ LEADS TEXAS

Homeschoolers help candidates tap into the evangelical vote, long thought to be Cruz's firewall in Southern states, even though he has struggled to win the conservative Christian vote amid the challenge by Trump.

Cruz leads Trump in Texas, 36.2 to 26.6 percent, according to a RealClearPolitics poll average, one of few leads predicted for the Texas senator for March 1 contests.

The stakes are high for Cruz on Tuesday. At a recent presidential forum at Regent University in Virginia, also a Super Tuesday state, Cruz warned that a runaway victory for Trump could make the billionaire businessman "unstoppable."

Marlin Bontrager, a homeschooler parent whose family gospel band tours the country by bus, said he's supporting Cruz in part because he worries that secular education has contributed to a drop in the American intellect and the rise of Trump, as well.

"Our educational system has(...) dumbed down our society. And we're seeing the effect of that this election," he said, referring to the broad support for Trump.

In 2008, homeschoolers in Iowa mobilized around then-Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, helping him win the state.

RELATED: See more from the most recent GOP debate:

14 PHOTOS
GOP Debate
See Gallery
Republican Cruz taps homeschool niche in battle for Texas
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Ohio Gov. John Kasich walks onstage before the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Donald Trump (L) answers a question as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) looks on during the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks onstage before the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Republican presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (L) and Ted Cruz (R-TX)(R) listen as Donald Trump answers a question during the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Ben Carson speaks during the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
US Republican Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz is seen on television in the CNN filing room during the Republican Presidential Debate at the University of Houston in Houston, Texas on February 25, 2016. / AFP / Thomas B. Shea (Photo credit should read THOMAS B. SHEA/AFP/Getty Images)
US Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump is seen on television in the CNN filing room during the Republican Presidential Debate at the University of Houston in Houston, Texas on February 25, 2016. / AFP / Thomas B. Shea (Photo credit should read THOMAS B. SHEA/AFP/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Republican presidential candidates Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (L-R) stand on stage ater being introduced for the Republican National Committee Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Houston's Moores School of Music Opera House on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The candidates are meeting for the last Republican debate before the Super Tuesday primaries on March 1. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Moderator Wolf Blitzer (L) and US Republican Presidential Candidates (L-R) Ben Carson , Marco Rubio , Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich prepare for the Republican Presidential Debate at the University of Houston in Houston, Texas on February 25, 2016. / AFP / Thomas B. Shea (Photo credit should read THOMAS B. SHEA/AFP/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Workers prepare for the Republican presidential candidates to meet at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Donald Trump (L) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) talk over each other in the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images )
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN listens to the answers to a question during the Republican presidential debate at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston on February 25, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The debate is the last before the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo-Pool/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

More from AOL.com:
Ohio high school shooting injures 4, suspect in custody
23-year-old man posing as high school student charged with sexual assault
Suicide bombing kills 27 at Shi'ite funeral in east Iraq

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.