Sen. Ted Cruz has released his birth certificate, visited the states that traditionally open the Republican presidential race and cemented himself as one of the few no-holds-barred foes of Obamacare.
Taken together, the moves signal that the 42-year-old Texan — elected to the Senate less than a year ago — is seriously considering a run for the White House.
"I think Cruz is in and he is serious and he is going to be a tough out," said Mike McKenna, a Republican strategist. "He is going to be the disruptive force in 2016. Cruz is the 2016 wild card now."
On Monday, Mr. Cruz looked to put to bed any questions about whether he is eligible to run for president by releasing to The Dallas Morning News his birth certificate, showing he was born in 1970 in Canada to an American mother, giving him both Canadian and U.S. citizenship. By Monday evening, The Washington Post was reporting that Mr. Cruz plans to renounce his Canadian citizenship — clearing the way, apparently, for a White House bid.
The decision to release the document put him in a similar boat as President Obama, who in 2011 released his birth certificate showing he was born in Hawaii in 1961 after "birthers" claimed he was born outside of the U.S. and therefore has been illegally calling the shots from the Oval Office.
"Behind the scenes, Cruz is in the process of positioning himself as a viable 2016 presidential contender, and he wants to crush any lingering doubts about his citizenship and eligibility for the White House among the GOP primary faithful," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist.
Mr. Cruz is scheduled to headline a Republican fundraiser this week in New Hampshire, where tickets are being sold for at least $100 per person and $750 for VIP couples.
He is visiting the state that holds the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, two weeks after his second trip to Iowa, home to the caucuses that kick off the Republican nomination contests. The trips add to speculation that Mr. Cruz is eyeing the White House, as well as further proof that the freshman senator has become a big national draw.
"It usually takes years for someone to generate the kind of enthusiasm that Ted Cruz has built up over just the last few months," said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist who served as an adviser to Mitt Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nominee. "If he chooses to go in that direction, he will be a force to be reckoned with inside a GOP primary process."
Mr. Cruz charged onto the national scene in 2012 when the tea party favorite overcame double-digit polling deficits to beat Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the pick of the Texas Republican establishment, in a bitterly contested and expensive two-man runoff for the party's Senate nomination.
The former Texas solicitor general went on to win the general election and has been a thorn in the sides of Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, where he has painted himself as a defender of the Constitution, touted his pro-life credentials and called on Republicans to shut down the government to defund President Obama's health care law.
Right now, Mr. Cruz is the most charismatic figure in the Republican Party, Mr. McKenna said.
"It is not necessarily the person with the most talent or the person you are going to go home and marry, but it is the person that has the combination of personality and screen presence that makes him a powerful force."
Mr. Cruz appeals to social, national security and economic conservatives, and that appeal is readily evident when Mr. Cruz, a former Princeton debate champion and Harvard Law School graduate, addresses audiences across the country.
"Cruz connects with people at a really visceral level," Mr. McKenna said. "He just energizes crowds like no one else does."
Mr. Madden said grass-roots conservatives "respond to Cruz because they see him as taking the fight directly to Obama with an almost unrivaled passion."
"They like to see that kind of fight in a candidate," he said.
It's that same take-no-prisoners approach, though, that has Democrats licking their chops over the idea of a Cruz candidacy.
"If he gets into the race, Republicans everywhere will regret this day for a long time," said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist. "His brand of politics is toxic for the party."
Political observers say it will become more clear that Mr. Cruz is running for president once he begins to smile more on the stump, changes his hairstyle and "tones down the fire-and-brimstone rhetoric."
Should Mr. Cruz enter the fray, he would be following in the footsteps of Mr. Obama, who ran during his first term in the Senate — a move that some say helped shield the Democrat from having to defend a long voting record.
That same strategy could help Mr. Cruz, who likely would be competing with the likes of former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, whose long voting record in Congress came back to haunt him in the 2012 GOP primary.
Heading into his Friday visit to New Hampshire, Mr. Cruz remains a relative unknown to many.
The latest WMUR Granite State Poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, shows that 4 percent of likely Republican primary voters would support him — putting him squarely behind New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's 21 percent, Sen. Rand Paul's 16 percent and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's 10 percent.
The same poll, though, shows people are becoming more familiar with Mr. Cruz. In July, 48 percent of likely Republican primary voters did not know of Mr. Cruz — down from 62 percent in February. His favorability also jumped over that time, from 18 percent to 29 percent.
Mr. Cruz has been asked to speak in New Hampshire this fall at an annual fundraising dinner hosted by Cornerstone Action, an influential conservative organization that promotes "traditional values, limited government, and free markets."
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