By Alexander Bolton - 08/02/14 06:04 AM EDT
Sen. Ted Cruz arrives in Iowa this weekend riding a wave of political momentum after clashing with GOP leaders in Washington over immigration legislation.
Cruz, a Republican from Texas, is emerging as a favorite of conservative activists, who every four years play an outsized role during the Iowa caucus, the first contest of the GOP presidential primary.
He bolstered his reputation as a Tea Party rebel over the last two weeks by repeatedly meeting with House conservatives who forced GOP leaders to rework an emergency bill aimed at stopping unaccompanied minors from streaming across the Texas border.
Anti-establishment conservatives in Iowa are applauding Cruz’s role.
“Whenever we need a voice in Washington, he seems to be the most eager to stand up for we out here in the grassroots,” said Steve Deace, a conservative radio host based in Iowa. “The more people disdain him in D.C., the more they’re going to improve his chances in 2016.
“The anger and disenchantment with the GOP [establishment] within the conservative grassroots is even worse than I thought it was,” he added. “A lot of these people out here want to be for whoever Washington, D.C. is against.”
Cruz this weekend will attend an event sponsored by local Republican powerbroker Bruce Rastetter, who has hosted other GOP presidential hopefuls such as Sarah Palin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, according to The Des Moines Register.
Deace said Rastetter is a major GOP donor who prizes electability above all else.
“Rastetter just wants to support people he thinks can win. A guy like Rastetter is not going to meet with Cruz unless he thinks he’s a serious player,” he said.
Recent polls by Fox News and CNN show the field of likely contenders for the GOP nomination is tightly packed, with Cruz coming within a few points of the frontrunners.
One of the persistent knocks on Cruz from GOP strategists is that he would not be electable in a general election against Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ expected nominee.
Cruz will make a return trip to Iowa the following weekend to attend the Family Leadership Summit in Ames. Other presidential hopefuls, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Jindal are also scheduled to attend that conclave of social conservatives
GOP strategists say the recent battle with party leaders over the border legislation will help Cruz distinguish himself from the field.
“Obviously this is a critical issue for Ted Cruz and a way to springboard to a larger agenda,” said Ford O’Connell, a strategist who worked on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign. “It certainly gives him a launching point and a second life after the shutdown to re-inject his name in the conversation.”
Cruz took on members of his leadership, such as Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who endorsed speeding deportation proceedings as a way to deal with the estimated 57,000 illegal immigrant children apprehended at the southern border.
Cruz argued in private meetings to conservatives that this approach would prove ineffective because the underlying reason for the migratory surge was President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
House conservatives agreed and tanked a bill that that didn’t address DACA directly, although House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had promised a vote on a separate measure dealing with the president’s controversial order.
With Cruz heading to Iowa Friday, GOP leaders regrouped and passed the bill after strengthening language to appease the Texas senator’s allies in the House GOP conference.
Cruz sprang into the national political spotlight in the fall of 2013 when he led a revolt of House conservatives against a government stop-gap spending measure because it would have allowed the implementation of ObamaCare. Since then, he has kept a relatively low profile.
The unfolding immigration crisis at the Texas border gave him another opportunity to mobilize conservatives and battle leaders over an issue that Tea Party voters care deeply about.
“There are a lot of Republican voters who are not pleased with the Republican leadership. So there’s value for Cruz not just standing up against President Obama, which every Republican is doing, but there’s value at times in standing up to the party itself,” said Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist. “That’s particularly true in the presidential campaign. It’s a great way to differentiate yourself.”
Mackowiak said Cruz has strong credentials among conservative activists in Iowa because he has battled his party over two hot-button issues, the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform.
Cruz also played a leading role in battling against the 2013 comprehensive Senate immigration reform bill, which Rubio, his rival, co-authored. Rubio’s standing in presidential primary states plummeted in the wake of his high-profile support for the Senate bill.