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Beltway Confidential

Is Ted Cruz the 2016 GOP frontrunner? In Iowa, maybe

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There are no polls showing Ted Cruz leading the 2016 Republican presidential field in the Iowa. A PPP survey last month found Cruz in sixth place in the state, behind Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio. But after a particularly well-received appearance at a conservative event in Ames, Iowa over the weekend, there seems little doubt that Cruz, who has been in the U.S. Senate all of eight months, is zooming toward the front of the GOP pack in the nation’s first-voting state.

The gathering, sponsored by the social conservative organization Family Leader, featured appearances by Rick Santorum, winner of the 2012 Republican caucuses, and Cruz, along with billionaire gadfly Donald Trump. From all accounts, Santorum was a popular speaker; the social conservative crowd appreciated not only his positions but the enormous effort he has made to get to know the state of Iowa and its conservative residents.

But Santorum’s welcome could not compare to the wildly enthusiastic reception for Cruz. Joined by his pastor father, Rafael Cruz — he was a big hit, too — the Texas freshman senator wowed the crowd, and then wowed them again.

“The reception for Santorum was appreciative, consistent, and steady,” Bob Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader and organizer of the event, told me via email. “The anticipation for and reception of Cruz was over the top. He was propelled by an amazing speech by his father, Rafael. All that said, Cruz delivered. Most walked away talking Cruz!”

“Although they both received a warm reception from the Christian conservative audience, Cruz clearly bested Santorum in terms of enthusiasm, excitement, and anticipation of a 2016 presidential run,” said Jamie Johnson, a GOP state committeeman and a strong Santorum backer in 2012.

“While [Santorum] delivered a good speech, he was upstaged by Cruz, who from everything I’ve seen has become the great conservative hope for Iowa conservatives,” said Craig Robinson, founder and editor of the influential Iowa Republican blog. “You could sense the crowd’s anticipation before Cruz spoke. The energy in the room as he spoke was unmatched by any other speaker that day.”

“Cruz has only been to Iowa twice,” Robinson concluded, “but in the limited time he’s been in the state he’s done everything right.”

None of that is to say that Cruz has left any other Republican candidates in the dust. Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal — each will be welcomed by Iowa Republicans if he decides to run. But it does say that, at least for the moment, Cruz has almost instantly joined the group of Republicans who should be taken seriously as a presidential hopeful. Maybe that will change — maybe Cruz will make a big mistake or just wear out his welcome — but right now, he is the hot name in Iowa Republican circles.

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