(Bloomberg Politics) — While Republican firebrand Donald Trump has seized control of news headlines over the past few weeks, it’s Texas Sen. Ted Cruz who may be poised for a breakout moment on the campaign trail, particularly after impressing conservatives over the weekend in the key state of Iowa.
Cruz led the presidential pack in fundraising during the latest quarter of the campaign, hauling in a remarkable $14.3 million in addition to $38 million raised by super PACs supporting him. He’s enjoying greater publicity with the release of his book A Time for Truth, over which he battled with the New York Times about a spot on its coveted bestseller list. And he’s raising fresh hackles in the Senate by threatening to block all of President Barack Obama’s nominees to the State Department unless Congress gets to review the Iran nuclear deal prior to a United Nations vote.
Cruz’s hopes of competing for the big prize likely hinge on Iowa, the first nominating contest which, unlike other early states, plays to his strengths, with an outsize crop of evangelical and hard-right Republicans. Judging from his reception in Iowa over the weekend, Cruz has some reason for optimism. ‘A great shot’
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“Senator Cruz has a great shot,” said Bob Vander Plaats, a social conservative activist in Iowa who endorsed Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012—both went on to win the state caucuses. “He’s definitely a movement conservative, who has $51 million behind him. Quite frankly, we’ve been hoping for a movement conservative to be well resourced.”
At a Saturday gathering of religious conservatives here in Ames, Iowa, hosted by Vander Plaats’s group The Family Leader, Cruz turned a ho-hum question-and-answer session into a parade of cheers with his distinctive right-wing edge and wit.
Republican pollster Frank Luntz, adorned in his trademark American flag-themed sneakers as he interviewed Cruz, tried to throw the Texan off his game by pointing out that the 2013 government shutdown that he led had failed in its goal of defunding Obamacare. Cruz spun it into a tale of him “standing and fighting” against Washington. The crowd ate it up. Next, Luntz asked the crowd if they’d like to have a governor or a senator become president—overwhelmingly the answer was a governor.
Cruz interrupted: “Actually Frank, let me jump in and ask: how many of you would like to have a conservative as your next president?”
Deafening applause. Luntz was flustered. Cruz had taken over.
A festival of red meat