Once dismissed, Ted Cruz now seen by rivals as serious presidential candidate

Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz on September 19, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz on September 19, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.  (2015 Getty Images)

Just weeks ago, Sen. Ted Cruz did not get a serious mention in discussions about the Republicans most likely to still be standing during the primaries.

But fast forward, and he’s a dominant factor in conversations about which candidates, at the moment, seem most likely to snatch the GOP nomination.

Rivals now say that Cruz seems to increasingly have a strong shot at being the Republican nominee to run in the 2016 general election, according to Politico.

"Anybody who thinks differently," said an operative with a rival 2016 campaign, according to Politico, "is lying to you."

Several factors have conspired to bolster Cruz.

He’s delivered solid debate performances, showing a command of many of the most salient domestic and global issues. He has more money in his political coffers than the rest of the GOP field, and has a first-rate campaign infrastructure, with a heavy presence in the first voting states, Politico noted.

"He's the longer-term threat,” said Fergus Cullen, the former chairman of the New Hampshire GOP and a Republican who does not support Cruz. “I suspect once Trump goes down, people like me will have Cruz to deal with."

The Texas firebrand seems to have benefited the most from the Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s departure from the race. If conservative favorites, billionaire Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson take a hard fall or drop out, Cruz is believed to be the one best positioned to pick up their supporters.

On Monday, he picked up the endorsement of one of Congress’s most conservative members, Rep. Steve King, who also happens to be from the crucial state of Iowa, which Cruz has visited more than any other presidential candidate.

King said he is endorsing Cruz because he has been a consistent defender of conservatism.

When he barely registered in the spotlight over the summer, Politico noted, Cruz diligently worked on building up support in the South, where many states will vote early. He set up campaign operations in U.S. territories such as Guam and American Samoa.

Carefully courting evangelicals – even having pastors on his campaign – Cruz held a high-profile religious rally in Iowa and South Carolina.

In the last week, he has doggedly gone after Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, who also is seen as someone who could attract conservative voters, although he also has been embraced by so-called establishment Republicans.

Cruz has sought to cast Rubio as soft on illegal immigration, and brought up the Floridian’s past key role in a bipartisan Senate comprehensive reform measure that, among other things, called for allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain a path to legal status – a controversial move in the eyes of conservatives.

“He’s done really well on the debate stage, raised a whole bunch of money, his campaign has done a good job organizing, and he does have these super PACs — they don’t seem very active, but at least they have money in the bank,” Politico quoted an unnamed source working for the rival campaign as saying.

This week, Cruz is said to have his eye on getting the endorsement of prominent Iowa conservative Bob Vander Plaats, who is hosting an event over the weekend and will announce his favorite of the GOP candidates.

Having Vander Plaats’ backing, as well as that of King, would further boost Cruz’s standing among conservatives.

“He spent much of the early season building organization in key states, and so there was some hit on him initially, that, ‘He’s not here enough, we don’t see him enough,’” Vander Plaats said to Politico about Cruz. “What he was doing is putting up, nationally, an infrastructure to be successful long term. Add to that the cash on hand … and the most recent debate performance.

It seems more and more people are warming to a Ted Cruz candidacy.”

If Cruz continues to climb, it will make plenty of people nervous in the GOP establishment, which Cruz has treated as his sworn enemy.

"People are increasingly saying he has one of the better potential paths" to the nomination, said a source from another rival campaign to Politico. “There's lots of people in D.C. who shudder at the prospect of Cruz being the nominee. He's ruffled so many feathers in town, there's a healthy dislike of him in the institutional operative class … He wears that as a badge of honor, and he should. It helps him project the outsider image even though he's a sitting U.S. senator."

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