Three days of wall-to-wall media coverage? Check. A ready-made audience of thousands of Christian conservatives? Check. A message tailor-made to fire up the GOP base? Check.
Ted Cruz's announcement Monday that he is running for president allowed him to snatch the spotlight from his potential rivals with an unexpectedly early entrance into the 2016 presidential race. But political fanfare quickly gave way to political reality Monday as Cruz entered the next stage of his fledgling candidacy: converting an attention-grabbing debut into a viable campaign.
Asked shortly after the announcement what Cruz needs to do to keep up the momentum, one kingmaker in early-voting Iowa did not hesitate to answer.
"Fundraise, fundraise, fundraise then organize, organize, organize — at every waking hour, which should be many," said Bob Vander Plaats, the head of the evangelical Family Leader. "That's what you're doing 24 hours a day — you're capturing the momentum, the opportunity that exists up front."
It appears Cruz has taken at least part of the advice. Aiming to raise $1 million in the coming week, he plans to hold a series of fundraisers scheduled to start Monday night in New York. The rainmaking tour could prove to be an early test of the ability of Cruz, a darling of small-dollar donors, to tap deeper pockets as he seeks to raise $40 million to $50 million for his primary campaign.
For Cruz, the road ahead is paved with familiar challenges: expanding his support beyond his devoted Tea Party following, balancing his presidential ambitions with a polarizing tenure in the Senate, and fighting the bipartisan perception — fair or not — that his combative, uncompromising style is not cut out for the Oval Office.
"There is a caricature out there that he's going to have to overcome," said Katrina Pierson, a Tea Party activist who was among the first backers of Cruz's 2012 Senate bid. "You have Democrats and Republicans who have created this caricature of him as being irresponsible, being a 'wacko bird'" — a term coined by U.S. Sen. John McCain — "being out on the fringe. I think some people are going to find along the way that's simply not true."
Cruz will also have to find his place in a crowded potential field that has already spawned two early front-runners: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has emerged as Bush's closest competitor on his right.
Cruz's disadvantage "is that Scott Walker got the early jump on being the alternative to Governor Bush, and that meant raising money and raising awareness and seeing an increase in the poll standing for Walker," said GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway, who added there's still plenty of upside to a Cruz candidacy, including his ability to appeal to the majority of primary voters who want to see "generational change" in the GOP.
Cruz also will have to contend with more scrutiny than ever from his Democratic antagonists, some of whom have spun his entry as positive for their party because it could force his potential GOP rivals to stake out more conservative territory. Gaffe-hungry trackers will trail him as he crisscrosses the country as a candidate, and opposition researchers can be counted on to start letting loose their best material as they look to knock the wind out of the Cruz boomlet.
"There are hours upon hours upon hours of footage out there, and we're going to make sure we get more, and we're going to hold him accountable for it," said Ben Ray, a spokesman for American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic opposition research group.
Cruz may have to watch out for members of his own party as well, particularly in the Senate, where his tactics have rubbed some the wrong way. Discussing the challenges Cruz faces, Conway on Monday raised one that is ultimately beyond his control: "all the blind quotes from sitting senators and senior staffers or pundits who think they know what they're talking about."
Back home in Texas, Cruz's candidacy is just the latest development in a political scene where Republican allegiances are divided among several likely candidates with ties to the state, including former Gov. Rick Perry. A statement from Gov. Greg Abbott's office did not take sides in the 2016 race, which could pit Cruz, Abbott's protege, against Perry, Abbott's predecessor. John Cornyn, Texas' senior senator, reiterated Monday that he would be staying out of the primary.
"I wish Ted and his family the best as he starts his campaign," Cornyn said in a statement.
Cruz's post-rollout tour continues Tuesday in New York with a round of media appearances and more fundraising. In the coming weeks, he will raise money in 10 cities, a schedule previously reported by Politico.
Cruz may have to return to Washington, D.C., this week for Senate votes. Then, this weekend, he is expected to be back in New Hampshire, his first trip to the presidential proving ground since taking the plunge.
"It's been a very good few days for Senator Cruz," said Dave Carney, a veteran GOP strategist who advised former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in his Senate battle with Cruz. However, Carney added, a splashy announcement does not make a winning campaign. "It's a plus, no question about it, but then what's next? ... You've got to have a plan."