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Tea Party Texan Cruz Gives GOP Hope In Hunt For Hispanic Votes

Jan 1, 2013
Originally published on January 8, 2013 2:19 pm

Sen.-elect Ted Cruz of Texas is a bright young Hispanic star who will be sworn in this week in Washington. The Republican Party nationally hopes Cruz will be part of the solution to its growing problem luring Hispanic voters.

Almost nobody had heard of Cruz when he began his campaign for the U.S. Senate. But when he stepped in front of a microphone, he could light up a room in a way that made the other Republican candidates seem lifeless.

"We're here to talk about politics," Cruz told a group of West Texas Republican women on the campaign trail. "If you go back to the ancient Greek, politics had two parts: 'poly' meaning many and 'tics' meaning blood-sucking parasites."

After laughter and applause, he continued: "Look, we're all tired of empty talk. I mean, what's frustrating as a voter is you see candidate after candidate that talks a good game, says they're going to cut our taxes, says they're going to stand for principle, and then they go to Washington and they turn into a spineless jellyfish."

Cruz had been speaking for just 40 seconds, but the West Texas women were nodding and laughing and saying "Amen." Cruz paced in front of them with a wireless microphone like a Cuban Tony Robbins — young, smart, good looking, intense, no notes, no teleprompter, his words and ideas flowing seamlessly.

He spent less time attacking President Obama than what he calls the "sold-out Republican establishment." He campaigned as a Tea Party true believer, calling to his followers to march with him to the barricades.

"From Ed Meese to Phyllis Schlafly to Dr. James Dobson to the five strongest conservatives in the U.S. Senate — Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey and Tom Coburn — every one of them is united behind this campaign," he told the crowd. "If conservatives continue to unite — and I ask for your help — we're going to win this race, and when we win this race Texas will lead the fight."

With no money, having never run for office, Cruz crushed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst by 14 percentage points in the Republican Senate primary. Then he sailed to victory by an even bigger margin in the general election.

In the 1950s, Cruz's father fought beside Fidel Castro in Cuba but became so disenchanted with the revolution's aftermath that he became a staunch conservative after moving to the United States. His son has followed his father's footsteps, becoming a strict constitutionalist.

"Ted Cruz is someone who believes firmly in the United States Constitution and what it was intended to achieve," says Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who was Cruz's boss and remains a good friend. "He was able to translate that into a unifying campaign across the state. Unifying those who believe that America has lost its way and bringing along those who see a brighter future for tomorrow. "

Many in the GOP hope Cruz will be able to bring more Latino voters into their column. But he takes a Tea Party hard line on immigration. He's for bigger border walls patrolled by drones from above and is against the Dream Act. In the general election, Cruz did about as well as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney did with Texas Hispanic voters — which is to say, not very well.

"I think he's got time to think about this and to figure it out," says Ross Ramsey, executive editor of the Texas Tribune. "He doesn't have to stand for election, so he can experiment. He's got a period here where he can figure out where he fits in the Washington spectrum, where he fits in the national Republican Party and how the Hispanic politics work. But I think he's clearly in place, if it develops right, to become a national player."

If there's one thing political opponents have learned about Cruz, it's that you underestimate him at your own peril.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

Out with the old, in with the new, that includes Congress. A new class will be sworn in Thursday, and we're taking time to meet some of the freshmen members. We have two profiles for you now. The first is of Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, a Tea Party favorite who won a seat in the Senate.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn says many in the GOP hope he'll be able to bring more Latino voters into their column.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Almost nobody had heard of Ted Cruz when he began his campaign in Texas for the U.S. Senate. But when he stepped in front of a microphone, he could light up a room in a way that made the other Republican candidates seem lifeless.

SENATOR-ELECT TED CRUZ: We're here to talk about politics. If you go back to the ancient Greek, politics had two parts: poly meaning many and ticks meaning bloodsucking parasites.

(LAUGHTER)

GOODWYN: Here's Cruz campaigning before a group of West Texas Republican women.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CRUZ: Look, we're all tired of empty talk. I mean, what's frustrating as a voter is you see candidate after candidate that talks a good game, says they're going to cut our taxes, says they're going to stand for principal, and then they go to Washington and they turn into a spineless jellyfish.

GOODWYN: Cruz has been speaking for just 40 seconds, but the West Texas women are nodding and laughing and offering amens. Cruz paces in front of them with a wireless microphone like a Cuban Tony Robbins - young, smart, good-looking, intense, no notes, no teleprompter, his words and ideas flowing seamlessly. He spends less time attacking President Obama than he does what he calls the sold-out Republican establishment. He campaigned as a Tea Party true believer, calling his followers to march with him to the barricades.

CRUZ: From Ed Meese to Phyllis Schlafly to Dr. James Dobson to the five strongest conservatives in the U.S. Senate - Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Pat Toomey and Tom Coburn - every one of them is united behind this campaign. If conservatives continue to unite - and I ask for your help - we're going to win this race. And when we win this race, Texas will lead the fight.

GOODWYN: With no money, having never run for office, Cruz crushed Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst by 14 points in the Republican Senate primary then sailed to victory by an even bigger margin in the general election.

In the 1950s, Cruz's father fought beside Fidel Castro in Cuba but became so disenchanted with the revolution's aftermath that he became a staunch conservative after moving to the U.S. His son has followed his father's footsteps becoming a strict constitutionalist. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott was Cruz's boss and remains a good friend.

GREG ABBOTT: Ted Cruz is someone who believes firmly in the United States Constitution and what it was intended to achieve. But also, he was able to translate that into a unifying campaign across the state, unifying those who believe that America has lost its way, bringing along those who see a brighter future for tomorrow.

GOODWYN: Along with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Cruz is a bright, young Hispanic star. And the Republican Party nationally hopes Cruz will be part of the solution to their growing problem luring Hispanic voters. But Cruz takes a Tea Party hard line on immigration. He's for bigger border walls patrolled by drones from above and is against the Dream Act. In the general election, Cruz did about as well as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney did with Texas Hispanic voters, which is to say not very well. Ross Ramsey is the executive editor of The Texas Tribune.

ROSS RAMSEY: He's got a period here where he can figure out where he fits in the Washington spectrum, where he fits in the National Republican Party and how the Hispanic politics work. But I think he's clearly in place - if it develops right - to become a national player.

GOODWYN: If there's one thing political opponents have learned about Ted Cruz is that you underestimate him at your own peril.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.