He won't be on the ballot, but Ted Cruz will loom large over races in Texas next year.
The freshman U.S. senator's warm welcome during a recent trip to Iowa has prompted some to designate him a “front-runner” for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. The focus is all the more striking considering that Cruz had never held elected office before handily beating Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a summer runoff for the Republican nomination for an open Senate seat last year.
While his ability to garner sustained national interest remains to be seen, Cruz’s sway over the Texas conservative grassroots runs deep. It’s beginning to exert itself on the developing races for next year’s Republican primaries.
Case in point: the last 19 seconds of a recent interview between Cruz and conservative Dallas radio host Mark Davis.
“Make sure to say hello to my dear friend Konni Burton, who is up next,” Cruz told Davis. It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it was more than enough to please Burton, a well-connected Tea Party activist now running for the Republican nomination for the state Senate district currently held by Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis. On Aug.10, Burton’s camp sent out a fundraising email with the subject line, “Ted Cruz Gives a Shout Out to Konni Burton.”
“It's not every day that the most prominent U.S. senator in America makes mention of a state Senate candidate,” the email notes, before linking to the audio and requesting a donation.
Cruz’s reach is also evident at races at the top of the ticket, in part due to his work as the former state solicitor general in Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office. In launching his bid to replace Abbott last month, state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said he would staff his office with “constitutional conservatives” like Cruz.
Cruz has not made any endorsements of candidates in Texas, but one for Abbott to be the next governor seems inevitable. Cruz constantly praised Abbott during his yearlong Senate campaign, describing him as “the finest attorney general in the entire country.”
Abbott has not mentioned Cruz much since officially beginning his campaign for governor, but his former protégé’s growing national profile has already thrown one obstacle into Abbott’s carefully choreographed statewide bid. At a staged event last week meant to highlight Abbott’s opposition to Obamacare, questioning from reporters prompted the attorney general to make news by distancing himself from Cruz’s calls for temporarily shutting down the federal government in the hopes of blocking the federal law’s full implementation.
“That’s outside the sphere of my expertise,” Abbott said at the event.
It’s an early preview of how the rest of the campaign season could play out: Cruz staking out positions targeting a national audience; Texas Republican candidates scrambling to catch up.