Team Ted Cruz is taking shape, and the Senate first-termer's presidential campaign could start before this spring.
The Republican senator from Texas tentatively plans to fill senior campaign positions with the triumvirate he signed last summer to expand his political operation. At the top is Jeff Roe, whose organizational title is undefined but who would be the campaign’s chief strategic and logistics decision-maker. Jason Miller would shape and oversee campaign messaging; Lauren Lofstrom would direct fundraising.
Cruz is in the process of “feeling out” additional campaign hires and prospective donors in preparation to join the field of 2016 candidates. If the senator decides to run for president, he wants to hit the ground at full speed, a senior Cruz advisor confirmed Monday.
Roe, founder of the direct mail firm Axiom Strategies, has never managed a presidential campaign. But he advised Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Perry in 2012 and is familiar with the terrain in the early primary states. Republicans who have worked with Roe describe him as a talented strategist who is capable keeping a campaign operation humming. Perhaps most importantly, Roe is a good fit for Cruz’ aggressive style.
“He is a mean, bare-knuckles brawler,” one Republican operative told the Washington Examiner.
Rounding out the team are pollster Chris Perkins, who earned plaudits for being among the few to correctly forecast November’s Georgia Senate race, and Jason Johnson, the senator’s longtime political consigliere. Nick Muzin, Cruz's deputy chief of staff in his Senate office, is steeped in South Carolina politics. He is viewed as someone who might take a leave of absence from Cruz' Senate office to join the campaign.
Johnson, meanwhile, is often referred to as Cruz’s “political brain." He is rooted in the Texas GOP establishment and has been with the senator the longest among his advisors. Johnson served as chief of staff to Greg Abbott for a period when the incoming governor was state attorney general. It was in Abbott’s office that he and Cruz, then the the Lone Star State's solicitor general, bonded. Johnson guided Cruz to second place and then victory, respectively, in Texas’ 2012 GOP primary and runoff contests.
Those two races constitute the 44-year-old lawmaker’s only experience with competitive campaigns. Cruz had a very easy time in his general election win against an under-funded, no-name Democrat. Republican insiders expect Cruz to contend for first choice among GOP primary voters who favor the most confrontational and conservative candidate. But to compete for the nomination, Cruz has to step up his game.
“His early reviews among tea party audiences have been stellar in Iowa,” a Republican insider in the Hawkeye State told the Examiner. “I don't think he can appeal as broadly in the party or in the general electorate as other candidates, but his support will be intense among those voters who have the highest anger score.”
Cruz has countered that to win the White House, Republicans must nominate a strong conservative who contrasts sharply with the Democratic nominee, likely Hillary Clinton.
Cruz has maintained a vigorous political travel schedule and been a constant presence in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — hosts, in that order, of the first three 2016 primary contests. On Sunday, he was in Myrtle Beach to address the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention. Cruz has cast himself as the conservative alternative in a field that could feature multiple Establishment and Tea Party candidates. That is consistent with the image Cruz has cultivated since bursting onto the national scene three years ago.
In 2012, Cruz defeated an Establishment favorite in his GOP Senate primary. Once on Capitol Hill, he led a campaign to derail Obamacare by leveraging a government shutdown and opposed comprehensive immigration reform plans that included a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants. These moves helped Cruz solidify a fevered fan base, particularly among Tea Party Republicans, and positioned him as a national leader.
But competing for the presidential nomination, which will be decided by more than just the most conservative voters or those sympathetic to the Tea Party, requires organization, money and an expanded network of supporters. Cruz has to assemble all of that from scratch. If the senator is as skilled at the business of campaigning as he is debating, he could surge into the top tier of candidates and propel himself beyond South Carolina. Getting there usually depends at least somewhat on how a candidate performs in Iowa and New Hampshire.
In Iowa, Cruz is expected to face stiff competition in the struggle to be king conservative. The likely field includes former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the 2008 caucuses; former Sen. Rick Santorum, who won the 2012 caucuses; neurosurgeon Ben Carson; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal; Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and others. In New Hampshire, the top overall contenders could include 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; New Hersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
“Cruz’s politics are likely too conservative for the New Hampshire electorate; his willingness to engage voters will serve him well here,” a Granite State GOP insider said. “Still, expectations for him here will be low. A strong showing in New Hampshire as the top conservative alternative would be a shot in Cruz’s arm.”