By Ginger Gibson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ted Cruz was happy to be the opening act for Donald Trump at a rally opposing the Iran nuclear deal on Wednesday in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.
Cruz is trying to win over Trump's supporters in the heated quest for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination by embracing Trump rather than bashing him as other Republican contenders have done, and had invited Trump to join him at the rally.
It was clear Trump was the main event, with a crowd of thousands toiling through the heat to see the real estate mogul after first sitting through Cruz's speech.
The roar of the crowd grew louder when Trump took the stage and many waved signs bearing his name. The crowd shrank by nearly a third after Trump spoke, with many opting not to wait to hear former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin speak.
Cruz, a Tea Party darling who reached out to Christian conservatives when he began his bid for the White House, has failed to move into the top tier of candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the November 2016 presidential election. Trump, meanwhile, has rocketed to the top of the pack and is enjoying a considerable lead.
"We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning," Trump said at Wednesday's rally, drawing some of the loudest cheers of the day. "I agree, you'll never get bored with winning."
Behind Cruz's move to appear with Trump is a hope that he will benefit from the media attention Trump receives and get his fans to give Cruz a serious look if - or when - the front-runner falls.
“I’m grateful Donald came because he brought each and every one of you with him,” Cruz told reporters after the two men spoke.
“Reporters act as if this is a shocking discovery, Cruz is trying to get Trump’s supporters. Of course I am," he said." And I’m trying to get the supporters of every other candidate. I’m trying to get Jeb Bush’s supporters to support me. And Marco’s and Scott Walker’s. That’s called a political campaign."
Sherry Jaynes, 49, of Greeneville, Tennessee, who attended the rally, said she has three favorites: Cruz, Trump and Carly Fiorina. On any given day, she said, her preference can change.
“I actually think they are both on the same ball team here, just supporting each other a little bit,” Jaynes said of trying to pick between Cruz and Trump.
But when it comes to the other Republican candidates, Trump's surprise rise in the polls has generated something less than team spirit. Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, who early on was considered by many the favorite for the Republican nomination, has called Trump a Democrat in disguise and bashed him for speaking highly of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic primary front-runner.
Cruz, however, previously has had some words of praise for Trump. Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, in July said he stood with the real estate mogul on immigration after Trump said many illegal immigrants from Mexico are criminals.
Wednesday's rally was organized by Tea Party groups in opposition to the deal struck by President Barack Obama in which the United States and five other world powers will lift economic sanction on Iran in return for curbs on the country's nuclear program. The entire Republican field opposes the Iran deal, though Obama has now secured 41 votes in the Senate for the deal, just enough to block a final vote on a resolution of disapproval.
(Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Leslie Adler)