DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Texas tea party darling U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is making his fourth trip to Iowa in eight months, logging serious face time before most other potential 2016 White House hopefuls in the state that kicks off presidential voting.
Cruz will deliver the keynote speech at a Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators' event Tuesday in Des Moines before heading to Mason City for a GOP fundraiser with Iowa's U.S. Rep. Steve King, with whom Cruz has previously gone pheasant hunting. The first-term senator addressed the Iowa Republican Party's annual Ronald Reagan dinner in October, and met with Christian conservatives and evangelical leaders during two visits last summer.
That's more Iowa trips than any of the other Republicans mentioned as possible presidential contenders, except for fellow tea party-backed U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. But Cruz's brand of social conservatism may excite much of the party's base more easily than Paul's Libertarian ideals.
This time, Cruz will be courting home school advocates who are deeply religious and often politically active. Their support helped the last two Republicans win Iowa's presidential caucus: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008, and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania in 2012.
Cruz, however, will likely need support from other conservative blocs if he is going to succeed in Iowa, where some traditional Republicans haven't been thrilled with his firebrand ways that helped spark last year's government shutdown. For instance, during his latest trip, Cruz has no plans to meet with Gov. Terry Branstad, a mainstream Republican, even though they have appeared together in the past.
A national veterans' group also sponsored a full-page ad in Tuesday's Des Moines Register demanding that Cruz explain his past stated opposition to the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, which promotes biofuel produced in Iowa.
And on a conference call with reporters, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who leads the Democratic National Committee, called the fiercely conservative Cruz the Republican Party's "new face"— even a year after GOP Chairman Reince Priebus presented recommendations on how the party can broaden its appeal, including reaching out to racial and ethnic minorities and supporting comprehensive immigration reform.
"The tea party clearly has had a stranglehold over the Republican agenda and Ted Cruz has been driving that agenda," Wasserman Schultz said.
Still, Jamie Johnson, a member of the Iowa GOP's State Central Committee and former top Iowa adviser to Santorum in 2012, said he has spoken with Texas' freshman senator about tweaking his economics-heavy message to best court Iowa conservatives.
"You've got to enunciate the moral themes here, and if you don't, you lose," Johnson said. "America is more than one big economy with 50 states. It's a culture and it's a people with collective values, and you have to enunciate those values with conviction."
Cruz is traversing the early presidential testing ground while some potential 2016 rivals, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, are still on the political sidelines. Cruz is also scheduled to visit New Hampshire, home to the nation's first presidential primary, for the second and third times in April, and he has been to early voting South Carolina twice.
Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier insists that too much shouldn't be read into his travels.
"He just goes where he's invited," Frazier said.