By Todd J. Gillman, The Dallas Morning News (MCT)
WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz will spend Saturday in Georgia pitching voters on David Perdue. That will bring to three the number of Senate nominees the Texas Tea Partier has clasped hands with this fall.
Republican hopes to reclaim the Senate hinge on eight to ten crucial races. Cruz, one of several senators eyeing the White House in 2016 and by far the most divisive in either party, has been doing his part. He’s sent checks to some candidates, raised money for others, and donated generously to the party’s Senate campaign arm.
He’s also stumped where he’s been invited, which turns out to be a limited number of contested states: Iowa, Kansas and Georgia. He’ll be in Alaska the weekend before Election Day, an aide said Wednesday.
In other battlegrounds where moderate voters hold the key, such as Colorado and North Carolina, Cruz isn’t the go-to guy. The 16-day government shutdown he instigated a year ago remains unpopular — one of several reasons that for each candidate who welcomes Cruz, there are more for whom his embrace would be toxic.
“I’m on the road just about every day. Primarily campaigning to help retake the Senate in 2014, which I think we have a tremendous opportunity to do,” he said in a recent interview. “I’m going to be in a number of other states. We’re set to travel quite a bit” in the final push ahead of Nov. 4.
In Kansas, Cruz joined three-term Sen. Pat Roberts last week. Challenger Greg Orman pounced on him for “inviting the architect of last year’s government shutdown.” Kansas political analysts agreed that the Cruz appearance came at a price.
But during the Republican primary in Kansas, he’d been pummeled as insufficiently conservative by Tea Partier Milton Wolf, who pitched himself as the next Ted Cruz. Roberts won but needed to shore up support in his own party.
“I want to talk in particular to conservative voters, to tea party voters,” Cruz said at a rally in Wichita. “If you’re frustrated with Washington, the answer is not to stay home and keep (Democrat) Harry Reid as majority leader.”
Brian Walsh, a veteran GOP strategist and Roberts consultant, called it invaluable.
“Senator Cruz was a great help. It was very useful for him to be there to rally conservative voters in Kansas, particularly with Senator Roberts still coming off a very divisive primary,” he said.
Jennifer Duffy, a top Senate analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, agreed that Cruz was “probably very helpful in coalescing the conservative base. … So that was worth it.”
But in plenty of other states, candidates prefer to keep Cruz at arm’s length, she said.
Take New Hampshire, site of the first presidential primary in 2016.
GOP nominee Scott Brown, an abortion rights supporter, casts himself as someone able to work across the aisle more effectively than Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
Cruz has visited the state three times this year and hasn’t been seen with Brown, unlike another 2016 contender, Kentucky Tea Party Sen. Rand Paul, who has made himself far more palatable to establishment Republicans.
“Scott Brown and Ted Cruz have nothing in common,” said Duffy.
Cruz is dispensing some of his help below the radar. He sent $5,000 checks from his campaign accounts to six Senate candidates, including Brown, last month.
On Oct. 7, Cruz quietly hosted a fundraising event in Houston for four Senate hopefuls: Rep. Tom Cotton from Arkansas, Dan Sullivan from Alaska, Joni Ernst from Iowa and Mike McFadden from Minnesota. All but Ernst are taking on incumbents.
Cruz’s name popped up in the Minnesota race when McFadden accused liberal Sen. Al Franken of being so extreme that he’s “the Ted Cruz of the Democratic Party.”
So far, the Texan has appeared in person only with Ernst, in August, and he has the Georgia and Alaska trips pending. Cruz also has stumped this fall for two U.S. House candidates, in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Elsewhere, Cruz isn’t as much in demand. In North Carolina, where spending on the Senate race will top $100 million and set a national record, Thom Tillis is trying to oust Sen. Kay Hagan. In Colorado, Rep. Cory Gardner is trying to topple Sen. Mark Udall. Moderates hold the key in both states, and that’s hardly Cruz’s sweet spot.
“I’m sure people accept his help, and he is being helpful,” said a GOP strategist, speaking only on condition of anonymity. But “if I was Cory Gardner, I want to be 100 miles from Ted Cruz.”
Cruz has sent GOP senators and nominees $67,500 since taking office in early 2013, plus $29,000 to a handful of U.S. House candidates — modest sums compared with other incumbents.
The $250,000 check he sent the National Republican Senatorial Committee a month ago was more eye-popping — and a sign of bridge-building after his role as a vice chairman of the group resulted in only friction.
Republicans appreciate Cruz’s donations of money and face time. But “this is not going to make up for what he did for the last year and a half,” the strategist said.
The litany of complaints includes Cruz tussling with party leaders; refusing to endorse fellow Texas Sen. John Cornyn during the primary; calling other Republicans “spineless” Obamacare-lovers if they resisted his government shutdown strategy; and prodding House conservatives into near-rebellion against Speaker John Boehner.
Cruz and his aides bristle at assertions that he’s so polarizing, he’s been mostly sidelined compared to his potential 2016 rivals this fall.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has raised $100 million as head of the Republican Governors Association and has barnstormed the country. Paul has stumped in more than two dozen states for congressional and statewide candidates, also piling up chits.
That’s not to say Cruz hasn’t been busy. So far this year, he’s headlined more that 40 GOP fund-raising events. And he’s a star at conservative conferences.
He spent a full weekend this month in South Carolina — site of the third presidential contest in 2016 — meeting with local Republicans. Before a Clemson University football game, he stumped with the state attorney general at a tailgate party.
In Texas he’s cultivating a network of allies, helping attorney general nominee Ken Paxton, comptroller nominee Glen Hegar and a host of legislative candidates. He’s paid extra attention to Konni Burton, a former Cruz campaign volunteer who’s running for the Fort Worth seat that state Sen. Wendy Davis gave up to run for governor.
On Saturday, Cruz will stump in Atlanta and Savannah for Perdue, who’s no tea partier but could use their help in a tight race with Democrat Michelle Nunn.
Such efforts could yield better Senate relationships for Cruz, and plant seeds for 2016.
“There are fences to mend,” said Duffy. “He’s just done so much that screams, ‘I’m not a team player.’ Some of this makes him seem like a team player.”
Photo: jbouie via Flickr