Posted on May 7, 2013 at 6:33 PM
Tuesday, May 7 at 7:18 PM
AUSTIN -- Ever since being sworn in as Texas' newest senator, Ted Cruz's aggressive politics has ruffled more than a few feathers.
"It's fine you want to lecture me on the Constitution," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) retorted during a testy exchange with Cruz at a March meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where video of the two verbally sparring over federal gun regulations went viral.
The result has been a rapid rise to conservative superstardom, and more recently, widespread speculation among the national media over a possible presidential run in 2016. While not ruling out the possibility, Cruz has thus far chosen to redirect the presidential chatter.
"My focus is entire on the U.S. Senate. That's where the battlefield is," Cruz told KVUE's sister station WFAA last week. "I can't help what the media choose to write about or don't write about."
But could speculation over Cruz overshadow speculation over another potential GOP contender from Texas, Gov. Rick Perry? The subject of a second Perry presidential bid has been grist for the rumor mill since his initial campaign came to a close in early 2012. While Perry has openly courted the idea, he has yet to make a formal announcement of his intent.
"I'll make my decision about what I'm going to do at the appropriate time, which will be June or July," Perry told KVUE in a January interview.
On Monday, Public Policy Polling announced via Twitter it would replace Perry with Cruz in the next 2016 early presidential poll, citing Perry's consistent polling around 1 percent in the national survey.
Republican political consultant Matt Mackowiak says the signs are clear that Cruz is on the rise.
"He's someone who has tremendous intelligence, a great ability to debate," said Mackowiak. "He's a strong communicator and he knows what he believes. And I think honestly if you boil it down, the thing that appeals most to the conservative grassroots about Ted Cruz is that he knows what he believes and he's willing to fight for it."
Mackowiak says the Texas economic story is still a major selling point for Perry, should he decide to run. If both were to announce their candidacy in 2016, he says their individual records and backgrounds could allow each to mount a distinct argument for election.
"If Cruz runs he's going to run as a conservative fighter up in Washington who's been fighting the big battles in the Senate," said Mackowiak. "If Perry runs, he's going to run with the Texas economic miracle on the record of job creation and growth that we've seen in Texas. So I actually don't think there's that much overlap there. I think there's a path for each of them."
That said, both potential candidates would face significant challenges. Perry's national poll numbers have yet to recover from their deep decline following the GOP primary debates of 2011. Cruz would face concerns over readiness similar to those faced by then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) in the run-up to the 2008 campaign.
"For Perry, obviously he's going to have to prove to people he can debate and prove he's a better candidate and that he can make a comeback," said Mackowiak. "For Cruz, he's going to have to prove that he's ready to be president of the United States after only two years in the United States Senate."
When it comes to writing off Texas' most powerful politician, perhaps Perry himself said it best when asked about potential election challenges in January. Perry replied flatly, "I've been underestimated many times before."
Despite the national polling, recent statewide polls show Perry with a commanding lead in a hypothetical 2014 Republican gubernatorial primary. A February survey conducted by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune showed Perry leading with 49 percent of Republican voters, more than twice the 17 percent who indicated they would support Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott instead.
"If somehow we could get either Rick Perry or Ted Cruz onto the ballot in 2016, we can almost take the entire campaign off," said Democratic political consultant Jason Stanford. "That's going to almost guarantee election to any Democratic nominee."
Stanford argues neither could win over the moderates and swing voters courted by successful national candidates. Stanford's short list of potential Democratic Party nominees includes Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, either of whom he believes would score an easy victory over Cruz.
"We're trying to pretend we're not as excited as we are," said Stanford. "James Carville came out the other day and said that Ted Cruz is the smartest, most talented politician in a generation. That was brilliant. We all need to act like we're scared of him so he thinks that he really should run. He would be Christmas come early for the Democratic Party."
The potential 2016 presidential field remains pure speculation, at least for now.