PHOENIX — Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz toured Arizona's border with Mexico Friday and then turned his attention to voters in Phoenix at a rally at a Christian college that brought out thousands of committed and potential supporters.
The Arizona travels for the Texas senator began with a group of ranchers at the border near Douglas just days before the state's voters go to the polls. He marveled at the flimsy fence that separates the two countries at that point.
"My 5-year-old could climb this in about three seconds," Cruz said as the local sheriff and a rancher gave him the tour. "''President Obama tells us the border's secure. Well, I invite him to move the White House down to the southern border."
Taking a page from GOP candidate Donald Trump's campaign playbook, he vowed as president to "solve this problem and the border will be secure."
Flanked by other cowboy-hatted ranchers later, Cruz told reporters the tour — and tales from ranchers of migrants and drug smugglers breaking into their homes — was a reminder of how the Obama administration failed to secure the border.
Although apprehensions of immigrants near the border have dropped sharply during the current administration and illegal immigration into the U.S. is estimated to be occurring at a lower rate than a decade ago, it remains a potent political issue, especially in Arizona.
"We have a president who, as a partisan political matter, supports illegal immigration," Cruz added, alluding to Obama's executive actions to limit deportations.
At the Friday night event, Cruz doubled-down on the border issue, calling border security "an absolutely travesty" and saying Trump won't follow through on his promises if he becomes president.
"We know how to solve it," Cruz said. "The difference is as president, I will secure the border."
Cruz also said he'd be tough on immigrants illegally in the country now, saying he'd work to keep them from getting jobs, stop them from getting welfare and if "you are here illegally, you are deported."
Along with Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Cruz is one of three remaining Republican candidates vying to Arizona's 58 Republican delegates in next Tuesday's election. A poll released this week, before Florida Sen. Marco Rubio dropped out, showed Trump well in the lead with 31 percent of those polled supporting him. Cruz had 19 percent, and Rubio and Kasich had 10 percent each.
The winner of the popular vote takes all the delegates, and Cruz said despite the polls he has a good shot.
"If enough people come out on Election Day to counterbalance the early numbers we're going to do really, really well," Cruz said.
Voters who came to the event included supporters such as Kevin and Chris Delafont, a married Tucson couple who also attended a huge Trump rally in July.
"I'm impressed with his experience with the Supreme Court and I feel he would be the best person to pick the next Supreme Court judge," Chris Delafont said. "I'm more on the very conservative side and I'm a constitutionalist and I want to get back to the basics of our founding fathers."
Her husband was a bit more circumspect, drawing a gasp from Chris Delafont when he said "I might still vote for" Trump.
Chinese immigrant Bo Peng, a 32-year-old Army reservist from Gilbert who is working to become a citizen, said he backs Cruz because of his conservative positions on small government, lower taxes and religious freedom. But he was also concerned about Trump's rhetoric.
"I think Trump is acceptable at first," Peng said. "But as it goes on I think Trump is becoming more disgraceful in terms of speech. He actually entices violence, which puts me into alert, because if a candidate uses people's anger to entice violence for his own purpose it's very, very dangerous.
"It happened in China, it happened in Germany," Peng said. "When people think OK, I'm angry patriot, I'm right, I'm ethically right, so I can do anything, it's very, very dangerous."
Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi contributed from Douglas, Arizona.