AUSTIN -- Even before his 21-hour speech came to a close, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was just about everywhere.
The junior senator from Texas quickly became the top political story in the nation just hours after taking the floor of the U.S. Senate Tuesday afternoon and vowing to speak against the Affordable Care Act "until I am no longer able to stand." By the day's end, "Ted Cruz" was the top search on Google, with more than 200,000 queries.
Cruz began speaking shortly before 2:00 p.m. CST Tuesday, and after a long night of talking that occasionally wandered away from the topic of health care to reality television and children's books, emerged to a throng of awaiting media around 11:00 a.m. CST Wednesday.
"To be honest I feel terrific," Cruz told CNN Wednesday afternoon. "I feel energized that the American people had an opportunity, I hope, to engage in this debate and to have their voice heard."
Cruz's speech was not technically a filibuster, since it could not have delayed a vote scheduled to take place Wednesday afternoon on whether to begin debating a continuing resolution (CR) to fund government operations. The measure passed by the Republican-controlled House removes funding for the program known as Obamacare, but the 54-member Democratic majority in the Senate is expected to strip that portion of the language.
The Senate will cast another "cloture" vote on Friday or Saturday to end debate on the measure, which needs 60 votes to pass. Since the measure will still have the House language included at that point, most Senate Republicans have indicated they will vote for cloture. After that, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is expected to introduce an amendment to remove the House language, which will only need 51 votes to pass.
Cruz has asked fellow Republican senators to vote against cloture in order to block the bill from being amended, but in so doing they would be recorded as voting against a bill to defund the Affordable Care Act. While his strategy to remove the health care law's funding is unlikely to work, Cruz likely left the Senate floor far from empty-handed.
"He got a 21-hour infomercial," said St. Edward's University Political Science Professor Brian W. Smith. For a politician thought by many to have presidential aspirations, Smith says Cruz's marathon speech may be a defining moment and fund raising bonanza in a way not unlike another Texas politician who captured the national spotlight just a few months ago.
State Sen. Wendy Davis' (D-Fort Worth) June filibuster helped temporarily derail a vote in the Republican-dominated Texas Senate to approve controversial new anti-abortion laws, although the legislation was ultimately passed in a second special session of the 83rd Texas Legislature called by Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX). Although unsuccessful in altering policy, it made Davis a national Democratic star.
"It makes you then the figure behind that movement. In the case of Wendy Davis, she became the spokesperson for millions of Texans. So it gave her that, even though she lost," said Smith. "For Ted Cruz, he wants that same kind of effect. He now wants to be the spokesperson for all those against the affordable health care law."
“This speech wasn't just historic, what Ted Cruz did was epic," Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer said in a statement Wednesday. "He made good on his promises and displayed courage rarely seen in modern politics. Cruz's commitment to conservative principles is why he is one of the leading conservative voices in America today. We're urging Tea Party supporters everywhere to stand with Ted Cruz and his fellow Senators who support a NO vote on cloture this Friday."
"There are those in the Senate who hold leadership titles, and then there are those in the Senate who actually lead," FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said in a statement. The organization, which supported Cruz in his Senate primary election against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R-TX), quickly set up a website and live stream during the speech. "In the past 22 hours, we saw who is willing to fight the big policy battles when it counts, and who would rather sit on the sidelines and do nothing."
Yet not everyone on the right has expressed excitement regarding Cruz's tactics. On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) cautioned, "I just don't happen to think filibustering a bill that defunds Obamacare is the best route." Others have taken issue as well, such as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who spoke out against Cruz on Wednesday over a comparison Cruz made between his naysayers and Nazi apologists prior to World War II. Those in both parties have expressed concern Cruz's strategy will ultimately end in another budget deadlock that could lead to a government shutdown next week.
If Cruz ultimately alienates party leaders, he could find it harder to pass bills or exercise influence on key committees.
"Ted Cruz is walking a fine line between being a national spokesperson that he wants to be for the Tea Party, and also having to be the junior senator for Texas," said Smith. "And being the junior senator means looking out for Texans first."
Now all eyes are on Cruz's next move.