IRVINE (CBSLA.com) — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz held a boisterous rally in Irvine Monday on behalf of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, again insisting he is the only candidate who can defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the general election.

Cruz, appearing in Irvine 57 days before the June 7 California primary, told CBS2’s Dave Bryan that California will be critical in deciding the party’s nominee.

“California is absolutely critical,” he said. “The odds are very high that California will be decisive. It has been decades since the California primary has mattered, but this year I think the people of California will decide who the Republican nominee should be.”

He shared those same thoughts with the cheering crowd at the Hotel Irvine.

“I’m going to say a sentence that has not been said in 50 years: California is going to decide the Republican nomination for president,” Cruz said. “It is the men and women here, it is your friends, your family. I’m here today asking for every one of your help — that you not only stand with us but you pick up the phone and you call your friends, you call your family, you call your neighbors and say this election matters, it matters to me, it matters to my kids, it matters to my grandkids.”

Cruz hailed what he called “landslide” wins for his campaign in Wisconsin and Colorado, indicative of what said was a realization that businessman Donald Trump cannot carry the Republican Party to victory in
November.

“What we’re seeing happen all across the country is the 65 to 70 percent of Republicans that recognize that nominating Donald Trump would be a trainwreck,” he said. “Donald loses to Hillary and he loses by double digits. We’re seeing those 65 to 70 percent of Republicans uniting behind this campaign.”

Cruz insisted that polling shows “over and over again that unlike Donald Trump, that with me as the nominee, we beat Hillary Clinton.”

“If we continue to unite, we are going to earn a majority of delegates, earn the Republican nomination, and if we continue to unite we will win the general election, beat Hillary Clinton and turn this country around,” he said. “It took Jimmy Carter to give us Ronald Reagan. And I am convinced the most long-lasting legacy of Barack Obama is going to be a new generation of leaders in the Republican Party who stand and fight for liberty, who stand and fight for the Constitution and who stand and fight for the Judeo-Christian values that built this great nation.”

Luis Miranda, communications director of the Democratic National Committee, said Cruz is a divisive figure for the Republican Party, because he can’t win the party’s nomination “without forcing a floor fight at the convention, which doesn’t bode well for Republicans.”

“Lindsey Graham said it best when he said that the Texas senator was his ’15th choice’ and that the choice between him and Donald Trump was like picking between ‘being shot or poisoned,”‘ Miranda said.

“So the fact of the matter is that we need to continue moving our country forward and building on the progress that President Obama has made in his seven years in office,” Graham said. “Ted Cruz and the rest of the Republican presidential candidates would only drag our country back to the disastrous policies that were in place back when President (George W.) Bush was leaving office — when we were losing 800,000 jobs a month, foreclosure signs dotted streets in San Diego and across America, and people had to go bankrupt to pay for their health care,” he continued.

Cruz was also scheduled to make a radio appearance Monday afternoon as part of his second visit to Southern California in 13 days.

Both of Cruz’s opponents for the Republican nomination were scheduled to campaign in New York Monday in advance of its April 19 primary.

Trump is scheduled to hold a nighttime rally in Albany and Ohio Gov. John Kasich plans to hold town hall meetings in Troy and Saratoga Springs.

After winning all 13 delegates at stake Saturday at the Colorado Republican Party State Convention, the 45-year-old Cruz issued a statement declaring, “This election is about the hope that our children can still have a more promising landscape of opportunity than generations past.

“It’s about bringing together Americans from all backgrounds who know that we will be stronger, more prosperous, and infinitely more free if we return power in Washington back to the people.

“So that Americans are free to create better jobs, live and worship freely, and once again proudly defend `the last best hope of Earth.”‘

Cruz, who would be the first Hispanic president, was last in the Southland March 30-31, appearing on radio and holding a fundraising luncheon in Newport Beach.

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