HOUSTON — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a rock star in the Republican grassroots, will mostly steer clear of political squabbles in his home state during the 2014 primaries.
It’s another story outside Texas.
Cruz says he plans to devote considerable energy toward getting like-minded conservatives elected to the U.S. Senate, where he sees a good opportunity to elect a Republican majority in the traditionally difficult sixth year of the incumbent president’s tenure.
“I expect to get involved in a number of U.S. Senate races across the country,” Cruz said in an interview during a swing through the Houston area this week. “I’m giving that some time to develop.”
Cruz said he was unlikely to "get involved in many state races" in Texas.
In his own climb to the U.S. Senate, Cruz saw his political fortunes rise after snagging endorsements from Tea Party conservatives like U.S. Sens. Jim DeMint, Mike Lee and Rand Paul. Cruz went on to score one of the biggest upsets in the nation when he defeated Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the establishment candidate who had been favored to win.
Now Cruz, just eight months into his first term, is a hot commodity himself — not only as a potential 2016 presidential candidate but as a potential kingmaker in other U.S. Senate races.
And requests for endorsements and speaking appearances are rolling in from candidates who support the same policy goals and are hungry for a similar victory.
Cruz said it’s still early to be talking about specifics or precisely which races and candidates are getting his attention. He said he wants to see first who can get the kind of support from grassroots activists and business leaders that’s needed to wage a competitive race.
“I’m going to give them some time to develop and see who actually builds the grassroots support and makes the case to the people that they will fight for conservative principles,” Cruz said.
Washington politicians — himself included — should not be “picking winners and losers,” Cruz said. But he made it clear that he wants “strong, free-market candidates who will defend the Constitution.”
Cruz has riled senators on both sides of the aisle in Washington with his anti-establishment rhetoric and, more recently, his embrace of a partial government shutdown unless Congress votes to strip funding for Obamacare. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called him and other Tea Party-backed senators “wacko birds,” and Democrats say Cruz is a far-right extremist.
But he is popular among Tea Party activists and grassroots conservatives, and speculation is growing that Cruz will run for president. Cruz made his debut last month in first-test Iowa, where he got a reception that the conservative National Review described as “rapturous.”
Back home, at least one state politician is already anxious to endorse him for president: state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. A talk radio host, Patrick famously roughed up Cruz on his show during the 2012 U.S. Senate primary, but now Patrick is running against Cruz’s former opponent — Dewhurst — in the race for lieutenant governor.
In Houston on Tuesday, Patrick called Cruz “Reaganesque,” and vowed to support him in 2016 even if he’s running against Gov. Rick Perry, another Texas Republican mentioned as a potential candidate for president.
“I would support Ted Cruz. But I like the governor,” he said. “I think Ted has taken our conservative message to a different level.’’