What Happens If Ted Cruz Is Brought Down by a ‘Birther’ Catastrophe?

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It's not likely, but if Ted Cruz is felled by "birther" sentiment, Trump and Rubio are the main beneficiaries.Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

As we settle down for the final three weeks of frenzied campaigning in Iowa, the latest threat to the better’s favorite of an easy Ted Cruz win on the Republican side is evident in a new survey from Public Policy Polling. 

Here’s the crucial finding:

Only 32% of Iowa Republicans think someone born in another country should be allowed to serve as President, to 47% who think such a person shouldn’t be allowed to serve as President. Among that segment of the Republican electorate who don’t think someone foreign born should be able to be President, Trump is crushing Cruz 40/14.

So is the “Cruz birther” issue already baked into the numbers? Not exactly.

Despite all the attention to this issue in the last week, still only 46% of Iowa Republicans are aware that Cruz was not born in the United States. In fact, there  are more GOP voters in the state who think Cruz (34%) was born in the United States than think Barack Obama (28%) was. Donald Trump knows what he’s doing when he repeatedly brings up this issue- 36% of Cruz voters aren’t aware yet that he wasn’t born in the United States, and 24% of Cruz voters say someone born outside the country shouldn’t be allowed to be President. So this issue has the potential to be a difference maker with the race persistently so close in Iowa.

The good news for Cruz is that when informed, 65% of Iowa Republicans say it makes no difference to them that he was born in Canada- but 24% saying less likely could be crucial in a margin of error race.

For the sake of argument, let’s say the “birther” issue has a big effect on Cruz’s support in Iowa. Would that be enough to revive the campaigns of Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, the (respectively) 2008 and 2012 Iowa caucus winners whose conservative Evangelical support base seems to have been gobbled up by Cruz? Or would Cruz’s support go elsewhere?

According to the PPP data, the top second choices of Cruz supporters in Iowa are Rubio (23 percent) and Trump (21 percent). Huck is sixth at 6 percent, and Santorum is seventh at 4 percent. In case you wonder if that’s an outlier, a recent Fox News survey of Iowa tested the standing of the Republican candidates if Cruz somehow wasn’t on the ballot. Trump (29 percent) and Rubio (23 percent) came in first and second, with Carson’s recent plunge reversed and the doctor ranking third at 15 percent. Huck came in seventh at 5 percent, and Santorum was tied for ninth at 1 percent. Iowa’s conservative Evangelicals are pretty clearly looking somewhere else than the past this year, and that probably won’t change even if they discover Ted Cruz was born in godless, socialistic Canada.