Can­di­dates proud of com­par­isons to Cruz Seek dif­fer­ent kind of GOP

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The com­pe­ti­tion to be the next Ted Cruz is ex­tremely hot within the Repub­li­can Party, where a num­ber of emerg­ing chal­lengers are hop­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on the new­est brand name in con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics.

In Kansas, Mil­ton R. Wolf opened his fundrais­ing pitch to sup­port­ers last week by ask­ing them whether he could be the next Cruz can­di­date. In Mis­sis­sippi, Chris McDaniel an­nounced his cam­paign to unseat Sen. Thad Cochran last week and wel­comed the com­par­i­son to Mr. Cruz, call­ing it “a com­pli­ment.”

Then there’s Ben Sasse, a univer­sity pres­i­dent run­ning for Nebraska’s U.S. Se­nate seat, who set state fundrais­ing records by op­pos­ing Oba­macare. He told the Lin­coln Jour­nal Star last week that he would have voted with Mr. Cruz to keep the gov­ern­ment shut down last week, say­ing it was a bet­ter op­tion than con­tin­u­ing to spend and run up debt.

“They’re tap­ping into the anti­estab­lish­ment feel­ings that are re­ally run­ning high among Repub­li­can pri­mary vot­ers,” said Ron Bon­jean, a GOP con­sul­tant.

In many ways, Mr. Cruz has be­come the short­hand for the “tea party,” which was al­ready a short­hand way to cat­e­go­rize con­ser­va­tive vot­ers who sub­scribe to a lowspend­ing, low-taxes phi­los­o­phy of gov­ern­ment.

Mr. Cruz also be­came a short­hand for tac­tics af­ter he led a 21 hour, 19 minute fil­i­buster in Septem­ber and in­sisted that fel­low Repub­li­cans refuse to fund the rest of gov­ern­ment un­til Pres­i­dent Obama agreed to can­cel the Af­ford­able Care Act.

In the minds of vot­ers, and even for many law­mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton, the pol­icy and the tac­tics have be­come one and the same.

Online mes­sage boards are full of com­ments from tea party sup­port­ers call­ing for the ouster of Repub­li­can Party lead­ers, and vow­ing to sup­port only those who es­pouse a tea party phi­los­o­phy.

Mr. Cruz came from be­hind in polls to win the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion for Se­nate over a wealthy, es­tab­lish­ment-backed can­di­date, then eas­ily won the gen­eral elec­tion in 2012.

While attacked by most Democrats, many pun­dits and even some Repub­li­can lead­ers, Mr. Cruz is in the main­stream for rank-and-file Repub­li­can vot­ers, ac­cord­ing to Democ­racy Corps, a Demo­cratic com­pany run by James Carville and Stan Green­berg.

Polling at the height of the shut­down, Democ­racy Corps found that Mr. Cruz is wildly pop­u­lar among tea party ad­her­ents and, while not nec­es­sar­ily well-known among evan­gel­i­cal Repub­li­cans, is pop­u­lar among those who can iden­tify him.

“Even as pun­dits la­bel Cruz as ‘fringe,’ it is crit­i­cal to re­mem­ber that this is only true when talk­ing about the na­tional elec­torate,” the poll­sters said. “In his own party, there is noth­ing ‘fringe’ about Ted Cruz. He is right at the center.”

Many of the groups that al­lied with Mr. Cruz in push­ing to de­fund Oba­macare now are back­ing can­di­dates who seek to join him as re­in­force­ments.

In Mis­sis­sippi, Mr. McDaniel has won the back­ing of the Club for Growth, the Madi­son Project and the Se­nate Con­ser­va­tives Fund in his bid to unseat Mr. Cochran, who voted for last week’s debt and spend­ing deal. Mr. McDaniel told Na­tional Jour­nal that he would “cer­tainly con­sider that a com­pli­ment” to be called the next Ted Cruz.

The Madi­son Project and Se­nate Con­ser­va­tives Fund also have backed busi­ness­man Matt Bevin in his Ken­tucky pri­mary chal­lenge to Repub­li­cans’ Se­nate floor leader, Mitch McCon­nell.

Be­ing a tea party can­di­date has showed mixed re­sults in the past two elec­tions. In 2010 and 2012, it proved to be a good way of un­seat­ing Repub­li­can in­cum­bents in pri­maries, though those can­di­dates’ records were mixed in the gen­eral elec­tion.

Mr. Bon­jean said it’s still an open ques­tion whether em­brac­ing Mr. Cruz or his tac­tics will be a win­ning strat­egy for 2014.

“The goal in win­ning a Se­nate race is you first have to get through the Repub­li­can pri­mary,” Mr. Bon­jean said. “The ques­tion is if, when you get through a Repub­li­can pri­mary try­ing to get to the hard right, will those can­di­dates mod­er­ate their tone in or­der to ap­peal to main­stream vot­ers in their state?”

In­deed, Democrats were sali­vat­ing at the prospect of Repub­li­cans nom­i­nat­ing Cruz-like can­di­dates.

“Do the math. Try­ing to out­Cruz Ted Cruz may be a win­ning GOP pri­mary strat­egy in the South, but for any­where else, it means Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid for a long time to come,” said Christy Set­zer, a Demo­cratic strate­gist and pres­i­dent of New Heights Com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

In the case of Mr. Wolf, em­brac­ing Mr. Cruz may not be much of a dis­tinc­tion any­way. Sen. Pat Roberts, the in­cum­bent Mr. Wolf is chal­leng­ing, also voted against last week’s debt deal and even came to the floor dur­ing Mr. Cruz’s fil­i­buster last month to help out, us­ing nearly a half-hour of the fil­i­buster.

Mr. Wolf has other ways to get at­ten­tion out­side of Cruz cloning. He is a sec­ond cousin to Pres­i­dent Obama, which, as a con­ser­va­tive pun­dit, earned him a de­cent amount of ink.


Polling at the height of the shut­down, Democ­racy Corps found that Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Repub­li­can, is wildly pop­u­lar among tea party ad­her­ents and, while not nec­es­sar­ily well-known among evan­gel­i­cal Repub­li­cans, is pop­u­lar among those who can iden­tify him.

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