KINGWOOD, Texas — When Democrat Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, Republican voter Christina Katok of Walden said she believed he was ineligible for the job.
She reasoned that he was born in Kenya and therefore wasn’t a “natural born” American — one of a handful of constitutional requirements for the job. (Obama's birth certificate shows that he was born in Hawaii, but some critics do not accept that as fact.)
Fast forward six years and another freshman U.S. senator, Canadian-born Tea Party firebrand Ted Cruz of Texas, is being mentioned as a potential 2016 presidential candidate. But Katok, who would vote for Cruz in a heartbeat, doesn’t have any concerns about his eligibility.
“As far as I’m concerned, Canada is not really foreign soil,” she said. Katok said she was more disturbed by Obama's "strong ties to Kenya," the African country where his father was born. She also said she didn’t like the fact that Obama did not release his long-form birth certificate during the 2008 race.
Cruz, who recently released his Canadian birth certificate, is at least “up front about it,” she said.
Katok, who saw Cruz speak at a Tea Party rally here this week, is not alone. The vastly different perceptions of similar controversies were evident at rallies and events Cruz attended this week across Texas, where he is meeting with constituents and promoting his drive to strip federal funding for Obamacare.
Liberal critics say Republicans who questioned Obama’s presidential eligibility are being hypocritical now that one of their own is facing questions about his. Republican partisans say the controversies are different — and that Cruz has been more transparent about the circumstances of his birth.
But partisanship may also be a factor in the differing perceptions.
Kerrville real estate broker Sue Tiemann, for example, said she had questioned Obama’s American citizenship and concluded that if he had not been born in this country, he would not be eligible.
Even if Obama had been born in Kenya, though, nobody disputed that his mother was from Kansas. In that case, it would be strikingly similar to the circumstances of Cruz’s birth: a mother who was an American citizen, born in Delaware, and a father born somewhere else (in Cruz’s case, Cuba).
Tiemann, who said she has no doubt that Cruz is eligible to be president, acknowledged that party affiliation might have something to do with her evaluation of the circumstances.
“You are always going to have that issue between Republicans and Democrats, [who] always look at it with a different way, a different eye,” she said.
The issue of Obama’s birthplace came up briefly during Cruz’s race for the U.S. Senate. In an October 2012 televised debate, Cruz’s Democratic opponent, Paul Sadler, asked Cruz if he considered himself a “birther,” and whether he believed Obama is Christian. Cruz declined to answer.
Chuck McDonald, who ran Sadler’s campaign, said they thought it was potentially a good wedge issue in the race.
“He could either be in a position where he would have to denounce the birther issue and thus alienate some of his supporters, or he could embrace that marginal point of view,” McDonald said. “He was never forced to really answer the question.”
On Wednesday, Cruz told The Texas Tribune that he never questioned Obama’s eligibility but wondered why the president wasn’t more forthcoming with his full birth certificate.
“I thought it was curious that he didn’t hand over his birth certificate, but I never raised [that],” Cruz said. “When I got the question from the paper, I said sure, here’s my birth certificate, which I think is a pretty straightforward thing to do.”
Cruz released his birth certificate to The Dallas Morning News, which discovered that the senator is still a Canadian citizen. Cruz says he plans to fill out the paperwork needed to renounce his Canadian citizenship.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama released a computer-generated “certification of live birth” indicating he was born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961. According to a timeline published by PolitiFact, Obama sought a “waiver from Hawaii’s prohibition on releasing the long-form birth certificate” on April 18, 2011.
Nine days later, the White House publicly released the long-form birth certificate.
“I know there’s going to be a segment of people for which, no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest,” Obama said after providing the document. “But I’m speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do.”
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.