Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa — Never mind that he lost.
Tea party Sen. Ted Cruz took nothing short of a victory lap in his state of Texas this week, appearing before wildly supportive crowds that overlooked the fact that the Republican who led the charge to kill money for President Barack Obama's health care law had failed.
Now he's coming to Iowa, where Republicans who will have the first say in the next presidential race are certain to view him more skeptically than GOP loyalists do back home.
In Iowa and across the nation, the GOP is in the midst of an internal war pitting tea partyers like Cruz who argue for ideological purity against more mainstream Republicans advocating a more pragmatic, inclusive party approach to governing.
The two sides will be on display Friday night when Cruz — an untraditional Republican who hasn't ruled out running for president — gives the keynote address at a very traditional gathering: the Iowa Republican Party's annual fall fundraiser.
In Iowa, a state where people are as well-known for their politeness as conservatives are for their convictions, Cruz is likely to be warmly received. But that will belie the sharp divisions among Republicans in the state.
Cruz went to the Senate on a wave of tea party passion in 2012. But if he runs for president, it's Iowa, known for its thorough examination of the candidates where he'll be judged first.
And Gov. Terry Branstad, scheduled to speak right before Cruz, has displayed little patience for Congress over the past month, especially the drama surrounding the partial government shutdown in which Cruz played a starring role.
"It's counterproductive, and Americans are fed up with it," Branstad said of political gamesmanship in Congress in a recent Associated Press interview.
Branstad and his allies in Iowa's GOP business establishment are trying to reclaim power in the state party from tea partyers, libertarians and social conservatives. It's a scene beginning to play out across the country, with veteran GOP luminaries now openly fearing that tea party stars like Cruz are costing Republicans the new voters they need to win again nationally.
Cruz certainly disputes that he's merely a crusader, arguing often that he's sticking to his principles of small government and less spending, when it's GOP leadership in Congress that's betraying them by compromising.
The 42-year-old former Texas solicitor general was elected to the Senate last year. He stunned the Republican establishment in Texas by beating Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the 2012 Republican runoff, en route to becoming Texas' first Hispanic senator.
Already an underdog winner, Cruz wasted little time seizing on it, and the tea-party faithful who propelled him.
He spoke for 21 hours last month on the Senate floor to urge colleagues to vote against allowing money for the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The performance was the talk of Washington and boosted C-SPAN ratings, but did little else.
Cruz also helped precipitate the 16-day partial federal shutdown with his demand that President Barack Obama gut his 3-year-old health care law. He also successfully urged a core of House Republicans to follow suit.
"Throughout this entire battle, the response that I've received from Texans has been overwhelming," he told reporters in Fort Worth, Texas, this week.
He's also turned heads in Iowa, though the early reviews are mixed, even within the strict conservative audience he would naturally court as a candidate for the 2016 caucuses.
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