Toast of Tampa: 5 rising stars to watch
By: Alex Isenstadt and Kate Nocera
August 27, 2012 04:59 PM EDT
TAMPA, Fla. — They may not be the headline acts like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio, but a group of up-and-coming GOP stars is lurking in the wings, ready to burst onto the party’s national radar.
One’s a Texas tea party favorite who demolished an establishment pick in a Senate primary. One is a black female Republican seeking a House seat in Utah. Another is Florida’s attorney general and a hero of the anti-Obamacare lawsuits. There’s also an Afghanistan war veteran running for the House and a Sarah Palin acolyte poised to grab a Democratic Senate seat.
They’re the toasts of Tampa.
It’s a critical week for these ambitious Republicans, presenting them with a golden opportunity to rub shoulders with party insiders, donors and interest groups whose support will be critical in their ascendance.
Here’s POLITICO’s five stars to watch for the rest of the week:
Former solicitor general Ted Cruz is a tea party favorite from Texas who delivered a resounding defeat to establishment candidate Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in late July and his star hasn’t stopped rising since.
Educated at Princeton, the Cuban-American Cruz is making his mark all over the convention. He spoke at the Faith and Freedom Coalition rally to kick off the week and fire up the conservative base and national Republicans have given him a prime speaking slot on the floor Tuesday night.
He’s often compared to another young Hispanic senator who won as an underdog: Rubio. Cruz, 41, is likely to win the general election in November, adding another conservative Latino voice to the Senate.
There was no doubt at the Faith and Freedom rally that Cruz has become a conservative rock star. He was introduced by Faith and Freedom Chairman Ralph Reed as “the next senator from Texas” to thunderous applause. He delivered zingers, appeared relaxed on stage, and the conservative and evangelical audience went crazy for him.
He knows how to hit the right notes to draw in the tea party faithful — slamming the Obama administration on health care, gay marriage, and abortion.
“2012 is going to be the second coming of 2010. There is a tidal wave coming. Tidal waves often follow hurricanes,” Cruz said Sunday.
Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi has not shied away from the national spotlight since she took office in 2010.
A frequent guest on Fox News, the telegenic former prosecutor became a hero in the conservative movement when she became attorney general and led 26 states to challenge the Obama administration over the health care law.
“If it weren’t for Barack Obama I would not have run for office,” she told the crowd at the evangelical rally. “I was a prosecutor and I loved my job. I didn’t like the direction our state and our country were going in. And as a fourth-generation Floridian I felt the need to stand up and do something.”
As a popular politician in this key swing state, Bondi has been a prominent Romney surrogate, even traveling as far as New Hampshire to stump for him.
She hasn’t given any hints about running for a higher office but as her profile rises, it’s hard to imagine she doesn’t have any larger political ambitions. She’s positioned herself as a socially and fiscally conservative politician from a swing state, and the national GOP will get a chance to hear from Bondi on Tuesday night when she addresses the convention.
No House GOP candidate is getting as much attention as Love, who, as a black, conservative, Mormon, female Republican, cuts an unusual biography — and presents national Republicans with a compelling face.
Love, a Saratoga Springs, Utah mayor who is challenging Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, has a jam-packed schedule here. Her biggest turn in the spotlight will come on Tuesday evening, when she takes the stage in a prime-time speech that will lead up to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s much anticipated keynote address. Love will discuss her parents’ immigration from Haiti and will argue that Romney offers a pathway to achieving the American dream, according to a House GOP aide briefed on her remarks.
She will also be a popular face among donors and delegates. She’s scheduled to attend meetings with Restore Our Future, Mitt Romney’s super PAC, and Maverick PAC, a group headed by George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. And on Monday she attended a lunch sponsored by the American Action Network, an organization that is set to spend millions to defend the House GOP majority.
Love, who’s already received wide coverage in the national press since winning her party’s nomination this spring and has secured endorsements from heavy hitters like Sen. John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, will also make an appearance on Fox News’s “Fox and Friends” on Tuesday.
Recent polls show her trailing Matheson, but no matter what the outcome of her congressional race, Love is not going anywhere as a national Republican celebrity.
Cotton, an attorney and Afghanistan war veteran who’s favored to seize a Democratic-held House seat in Arkansas, has already established himself as a conservative favorite. During his successful primary campaign he won an endorsement from the Club for Growth and was the subject of profiles in the National Review and Weekly Standard.
The Cotton parade will continue this week in Tampa, where the Republican is set to meet with a handful of groups eager for some face-time with the rising star. On the agenda, an event with the pro-Israel advocacy group AIPAC and a briefing with the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has made Cotton’s race a priority. Should he win, Republicans would control all four of Arkansas’ congressional seats.
He’s also slated to hold an event with Concerned Veterans for America, a group headed up by former Minnesota Senate candidate Pete Hegseth.
Cotton will arrive at the convention on Wednesday after spending the first part of the week on the campaign trail.
“It’s important to be here because not only [do you] get to meet people you’re going to be serving with, but you also get to meet with groups you want to build relationships with.”
Once seen as a long shot in Nebraska’s primary, rancher and state senator Deb Fischer is now seen as the best chance for Republicans to take the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson.
She is not the establishment’s favorite candidate, but the Palin-backed Fischer will introduce herself to those same establishment Republicans Tuesday afternoon. She’s also here to raise money: organizing a fundraiser while she’s in Tampa, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
“As recently as a week ago, Deb Fischer was dismissed by the establishment. Why? Because she is not part of the good old boys’ permanent political class,” Palin said in a Facebook post shortly after Fischer’s win. “The message from the people of Nebraska is simple and powerful: America is looking for real change in Washington, and common-sense conservatives like Deb Fischer represent that change.”
She’s still the favorite in the general election in which she’ll face former Sen. Bob Kerrey. She has said she’s running a “Nebraska-focused” campaign and has sought to paint Kerrey as an out-of-touch-washed-up politician.