Ted Cruz's address at the annual South Carolina Republican Party dinner Friday helped feed growing speculation that the freshman senator from Texas is eyeing a run for the White House in 2016 — and raised yet another round of questions about his eligibility to serve in the Oval Office.
Mr. Cruz was born in Canada to an American-born mother and Cuban-born father, and was a citizen from birth — but that Canadian factor puts him in the company of other past candidates who have had their eligibility questioned because of the Constitution's requirement that a president be a "natural born citizen."
Michael C. Dorf, constitutional law professor at Cornell University, said the term "natural born citizen" has not been clearly defined — and that's good news for Mr. Cruz.
"This is all sort of framed on the fact that we do not have any case law and it is quite likely that the courts would stay out of it — even if someone brought a challenge," Mr. Dorf said. "The place that this would be solved ultimately would be the Electoral College."
The Congressional Research Service also weighed in on the issue in 2011 with an opinion that sounds favorable to a Cruz candidacy.
"The weight of more recent federal cases, as well as the majority of scholarship on the subject, also indicate that the term 'natural born citizen' would most likely include, as well as native-born citizens, those born abroad to U.S. citizen-parents, at least one of whom had previously resided in the United States, or those born abroad to one U.S. citizen parent who, prior to the birth, had met the requirements of federal law for physical presence in the country," the nonpartisan research agency wrote.
Still, a Cruz candidacy remains an issue of speculation on Internet message boards — and history shows the issue could dog the lawmaker.
The citizenship issue continues to haunt President Obama — thanks to the "birther" movement, as well as New York real estate mogul Donald Trump and Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio, who argued that Mr. Obama's birth certificate from Hawaii — released by the White House in April 2011 — was fake.
Sen. John McCain also faced questions during his 2008 bid. The Arizona Republican was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936. Then-Michigan Gov. George Romney faced similar questions during his 1968 presidential run. Mr. Romney was born in Mexico to American citizens living in a Mormon church colony.
"You do have the sort of acceptance by the political system of John McCain's presidential run and of the George Romney presidential run," Cornell's Mr. Dorf said. "So those suggest a more permissive approach."
For his part, Mr. Cruz downplays questions about his eligibility. "My mom was a U.S. citizen, so I am a citizen by birth," Mr. Cruz said in a recent Fox News interview. And he continues to vow to protect the Constitution. "The Constitution matters. All of the Constitution. It's not pick and choose," Mr. Cruz said Friday at the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Houston.
The Constitution's Article II, Section 1, reads: "No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President."
Mr. Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta, in 1970 to an American mother, though his father wasn't an American citizen at the time. The family moved to the U.S. when he was 4 years old.
The political world is already handicapping a potential Cruz candidacy and Friday all eyes were on South Carolina, where he and Vice President Joseph R. Biden, a likely Democratic candidate, headlined their parties' respective annual dinners around the same time in Columbia.
The Palmetto State could prove to be fertile political ground for Mr. Cruz, who bills himself as a defender of the Constitution, touts his pro-life credentials and is closely tied to former Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who vacated his seat this year to take over the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
After being introduced as one of his "disciples," Mr. Cruz paid homage to Mr. DeMint, saying he would not be in the U.S. Senate if it were not for Mr. DeMint, who also is credited for playing a big role in putting Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah in office.
A Princeton debate champion and Harvard Law School graduate, Mr. Cruz has earned notice since arriving in the Senate for his combative style — on display most notably in his fiery opposition to the nominations of then-Sen. John F. Kerry for secretary of state and former Sen. Chuck Hagel to head the Pentagon.
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