FARGO, N.D. — Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz told attendees at the North Dakota Republican convention Saturday that their presidential delegates could decide the nomination.
Convention-goers are scheduled Sunday to select 25 of their 28 delegates who will go to the national convention unbound to any of the presidential candidates. North Dakota does not have a primary or caucus.
"It is entirely possible the men and women gathered here will decide this entire primary, will decide this nomination," Cruz said during a 30-minute speech that was followed by 30 minutes of mingling with the crowd.
Cruz declined to meet with reporters afterward and didn't answer when asked how he felt about his chances of winning over North Dakota delegates.
Polls show Cruz with a comfortable lead over Donald Trump heading into Tuesday's Wisconsin primary. Former Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, who now is supporting Trump, will speak to the North Dakota convention on Sunday.
North Dakota state Sen. Tim Flakoll said it's difficult to predict which candidate North Dakota's delegates will back this summer in Cleveland but believes Cruz gave himself a boost by coming to the state.
"People remember that," Flakoll said.
One convention delegate, Paul Helms, said he is a Cruz supporter because they both believe in a limited constitutional government that allows the markets to work. Helms, 26, said Cruz's visit shows that North Dakota matters in this year's Republican presidential race.
"If you ask the average person what they think of North Dakota, they kind of give you this blank stare," said Helms, who represents a district that stretches north of Mandan to Hazen and Beulah, in western North Dakota. "To have a major presidential candidate come here and say we could potentially be the deciding factor, I think that is pretty cool to be honest."
Mark Pingel, 17, drove with his family from Watford City, about seven hours away in the North Dakota oil patch, to see Cruz. He and his father handed out Cruz stickers at the entrance to Scheels Arena.
"Only a few have said, 'Not on your life,'" Pingel said about promoting the Texas senator. "Most of them are pretty receptive. I think most people are happy that Cruz came to North Dakota. I like that he is honest. I like that he knows what he is talking about."
Cruz tried to connect Texas and North Dakota during his speech, saying he knows about agriculture and oil, key driving forces to those state's economies. He received three standing ovations, the loudest and longest when he said he would stand up for the oil and gas industry.
"North Dakota has risen as a powerful energy haven and we are going to keep the federal government the heck out of the way," Cruz said.
Cruz said a Trump nomination would hand the election to Hillary Clinton, who he suggested would proceed to "shut down fracking," referring to the system used to extract oil from the ground.