Ted Cruz's Shutdown Strategy Still Winning Him Points in Texas

Sen.Ted Cruz, R-Texas., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill Oct.16, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

Sen.Ted Cruz’s favorability rating among tea party voters jumped nearly 30 percentage points following the shutdown, a sentiment echoed by his conservative constituents in Texas.

Before, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, launched a 21-hour talk-a-thon on the Senate floor or encouraged the House of Representatives to stand firm in its position to repeal and delay the Affordable Care Act at any cost, he was a candidate. And he made a promise that he wouldn’t go to Washington and be part of the establishment.

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Members of Cruz’s own party took him to task for his tactics, referring to it as an “agonizing odyssey.”

Back home in Texas, however, local tea party groups and conservatives are applauding Cruz’s efforts.

Linda and Mike Vickers, who own a ranch in South Texas and hosted Cruz in 2012 when he was still on the campaign trail, are proud to have Cruz representing them, especially in the wake of his giving Washington a big old headache.

“He is the bravest conservative up there and it is a dirty shame that the rest of them are not the same. These last few weeks resolidified my support for him,” Mike Vickers says. “They better watch out because Ted Cruz gets a big thumbs up down here on the border.”

Political scientists observe that Cruz’s hard line conservatism can only win him points in Texas, which is considered a Republican stronghold. Democrats haven’t managed to win a statewide office there since 1994, making the state the longest-reigning red state in the country.

“There are undoubtedly some people who are irritated, but that irritation resides in the usual corners among moderates and Democrats,” says James Henson, a state politics expert and a professor at the University of Texas. “There is some degree of irritation among the business community here just like in the business community nationally, but that conflict has been present here for the last couple of cycles and won’t prevent Cruz’s rise.”

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During the 16-day shutdown, Texas felt the pain. Farmers and ranchers were left in the dark when it came to commodity prices as the Department of Agriculture wasn’t posting its regular updates on market prices. Visitors to the George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidential libraries had to look elsewhere for history lessons. And, some border patrol agents on the front lines had to return to desk jobs to fill in for support staff who had been furloughed. Border patrol agents saw their pay withheld.

“It just seemed that we got lost in the shuffle,” says Chris Cabrera, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council that represents Rio Grande Valley sector agents. “We have an important job to do and we were out there on the front lines, understaffed and underfunded. Some of our guys live paycheck to paycheck, and they had to dip into their savings.”

Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based GOP strategist, says that while the shutdown certainly hurt Texans, few blame Cruz for the gridlock in Washington.

“His stand was so refreshing,” Mackowiak says. “He made an argument against Obamacare and it was different than what we have seen from Republicans in Washington for a long time. He is as strong as he has ever been.”

Saturday Cruz won an annual Value Voters straw poll as the favorite Republican presidential pick for 2016. The annual conservative gathering is further proof that Cruz’s brand as a tea party firebrand works in conservative circles.

A Pew Research Poll Wednesday, the day the shutdown ended, also showed that among tea party voters, Cruz saw his favorability rating rise from 47 percent to 74 percent. Among moderates, however, Cruz saw his unfavorability rise 15 points.

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And his home newspaper, the Houston Chronicle , which endorsed Cruz for his election, criticized Cruz for his role in the shutdown, and called him “part of the problem” in Washington.

The demographics of Texas are evolving slowly leaving some pundits to guess that Cruz’s hard line conservatism could endanger a future run for Senate, but for now, Henson says, Cruz can keep digging in against Obamacare.

“Change is happening here, but the pace of that change is unlikely to provide an obstacle to Cruz in the short and even medium run.”

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