Ted Cruz: The man who wants to be the Marco Rubio of Texas

The U.S. Senate candidate from Texas, Ted Cruz, hopes to become the next Marco Rubio.

Like Sen. Rubio (R-Fla.), Cruz is a Cuban-American running a Tea Party-fueled campaign against a well-known and better-funded Republican. Texas Lieutenant Gov. David Dewhurst (R) is the front-runner in this race.

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“A great many observers have compared this race to the Florida Senate race between [former Florida Gov.] Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio, and I think there are undeniable similarities,” Cruz said at a recent campaign stop in the West Texas town of Abilene.

“David Dewhurst, like Charlie Crist, is a moderate, establishment incumbent, whose 14 years as a statewide elected official have demonstrated that he is unwilling to stand and fight for conservative principles, and that if he were elected to go to Washington, that he would simply go along to get along with the Obama agenda,” Cruz said.

But Dewhurst is more conservative than Crist and with wealthy former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert (R) also in the race Cruz may not even finish in the top two slots needed to force a runoff.

There has been no recent polling on the race.

Cruz’s campaign has been has buoyed by endorsements from D.C.-based conservative groups including Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) Senate Conservatives Fund, the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, as well as by glowing reviews from conservative opinion-makers. The website HotAir.com favorably compared him to Rubio, while the National Review described him as “The next great conservative hope” in a cover story.

While Leppert and Dewhurst have led in fundraising, those conservative connections have kept Cruz in the game. Cruz had $2.9 million in the bank as of the end of the year, while Dewhurst had $3.8 million and Leppert had $4.1 million. Leppert and Dewhurst are both multi-millionaires who can fund their own campaigns.

Another factor helping Cruz is that Texas moved its primary first from March to April, and then to May 29 because of legal problems with its redistricting map. That is likely to make the presidential primary there an afterthought and suppress turnout. In low-turnout GOP races conservative candidates usually do better. If no candidate reaches 50 percent a runoff contest will be held.

While Cruz touted his hard-line conservatism, he said he’s not concerned about conservatives not rallying to Mitt Romney in the general election.

“Defeating Barack Obama is too important to do otherwise,” Cruz said.

But he added that electing a dozen or so “strong constitutional conservatives” to the Senate is key to changing the country’s trajectory.

“A big part of the reason Barack Obama got elected is Republicans lost their principles,” Cruz said. “We weren’t standing for free-market principles. We weren’t standing for limited government. We were complicit with the Democrats in exploding the size, power, and spending of the federal government, and putting us on a path to amassing crippling deficits and debt. If we’re going to save the country, we’ve got to get serious about turning that around.”

Cameron Joseph contributed to this report.