Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican and Tea-Party darling, was in Iowa Friday headlining a fundraising dinner for the state Republican Party.
It was Cruz’s third visit to Iowa in as many months, but this time was different. It was his first time back since the government shutdown and his 21-hour anti-Obamacare talk-a-thon that preceded it — events that catapulted him from the junior senator from Texas to a conservative hero and household name.
Of course, Iowa, is the state that kicks off the presidential contest every four years with its first-in-the-nation caucuses, and Cruz is often discussed as a potential candidate in 2016.
So it’s no surprise Cruz got a standing ovation as he was introduced to the crowd of 600 Iowa Republicans who gathered for the state party’s annual Reagan Dinner.
What is more surprising, is that the clapping only lasted 40 seconds, and that the reception was more polite than electric: A week ago, he got an eight-minute standing ovation upon his return to Texas.
In Des Moines Friday night, he started by talking about his very long speech on the Senate floor.
“Twenty-one hours is a long time,” he said. “I mean, that’s almost as long as it takes to sign up on the Obamacare website.”
It’s not hard to find Republicans willing to openly criticize Cruz and his effort to defund the health care law. It was destined to fail, they say, a huge mistake that tanked Republican popularity and could have long-term consequences for the party.
In his speech Cruz blamed his fellow Republican senators for the failure, but then turned his remarks to the need for unity.
“We need to come together, and let me tell you, growth and freedom are principles and ideals that unify the entire Republican Party,” he said.
This is exactly what Betsey Sigler came to hear. Sigler is a pediatrician and mother of three, and says she would have kept that standing ovation going a whole lot longer if she had her way.
“I love Ted Cruz,” she says. “We’re smarter than what the media’s trying to play us for. Nobody’s divided. We all want freedom, we all want liberty and we want our rules followed. I think we’re willing to stand together and fight for that.”
After the event, Cruz talked with reporters, and was asked the obvious question: What are you doing in Iowa?
Cruz’s answer: He was invited.
Asked more bluntly as he was leaving whether he was laying the groundwork for a potential presidential run, Cruz looked at the reporter and just kept walking.
Dennis Goldford, a professor of politics at Drake University in Des Moines, thinks the answer is clear.
“Nobody comes to Iowa for the weather,” says Goldford — on a day when the high in Des Moine was about 30 degrees colder than the forecast for Austin, Texas. “Now we have pretty good food, and Iowans are very nice people, but you’re always suspicious when potential presidential candidates show up in the state of Iowa.”
It’s too early to admit presidential ambitions. But John Stineman, a public affairs consultant with deep roots in Iowa Republican politics, says it isn’t too early to visit.
“Any candidate will come during the ’14 (election) cycle to help raise money, and that’s how they start to plant seeds,” Stineman says. “So, he’s doing all the things that a prospective candidate does.”
Cruz encouraged everyone in the audience to get out their cell phones text in their support, building a database of supporters and potential donors that could come in handy if he decides to run for president in 2016.