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What to make of Ted Cruz?

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, his wife Heidi, and their two daughters Catherine, 4, left, and Caroline, 6, right, practice waving on stage during a walk-through at Liberty University, where Cruz's planned to launch his campaign for president of the United States.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, his wife Heidi, and their two daughters Catherine, 4, left, and Caroline, 6, right, practice waving on stage during a walk-through at Liberty University, where Cruz's planned to launch his campaign for president of the United States. AP

The horse race for 2016 is several months old now, so it might surprise you that no presidential candidate left the gate before today.

That changes with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas declaring for the presidency later today in a speech at Liberty University. He made it official this morning:

So what to make of Cruz, who instantly becomes the Tea Party favorite?

If you’re a Democrat, you might be heartened by the prospect of his nomination. He doesn’t poll well with the moderates/unaffiliated voters that any presidential candidate needs to win the office. In fact, as the Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted Sunday, Cruz will start off his candidacy with the worst one-year-out polling numbers than any candidate since 2000, with an average of only about 5.5 percent in polls right now. In other words, he’s polling like a second- or third-tier candidate right now.

(In North Carolina, Public Policy Polling had Cruz and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry bringing up the rear of a nine-candidate primary field with 3 percent.)

But if you’re a mainstream/establishment Republican, you’re probably nervous. Cruz is intensely popular with the conservatives in his party, but not just those conservatives. A favorability chart from The Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin shows Cruz doing as well with those who “lean Republican” as those who say they are “strong” Republicans.

The Cruz optimist will note his low polling numbers thus far are a product of a very crowded Republican field. Also, they argue, Cruz isn’t very well known outside those who follow politics fervently, which means he’ll have an opportunity to define himself to the moderate voters he needs in the Republican primary and general election.

The Cruz pessimists will say that even casual FOX News viewers know Cruz was the de facto leader of the movement that shut down the government in 2013 in an effort to defund Obamacare. He also suggested doing the same last year over the president’s immigration policies before backing away from the notion.

Those positions made him a hero to the far right - and scary to the GOP establishment. Will he be just as strident moving forward, or will he try to rebrand himself to a voting public that might just be getting to know him? His kickoff speech today should offer some clues.

Peter St. Onge

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