Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz might not be a household name, but the candidate for Senate was cheered heartily at the conservative Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C.

Working without notes and pacing the stage like a preacher, Cruz talked about defending "American values" and said liberals have "a reason to be worried" about the next election.

He got big laughs when he said that President Obama blaming the Tea Party for America's credit downgrade was "a little bit like Charlie Sheen blaming [his problems] on the Betty Ford clinic."

Cruz went on say that "our conservative values [are] under assault," that Christians were being forced to participate in abortions and that the "gay rights agenda" is hurting Americans.

The audience gave him one of the warmest receptions of the weekend.

Cruz came into the Senate primary as the underdog against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a multimillionaire who can self-fund his campaign and has good statewide name recognition. The latest poll, done by the Democratic-affiliated firm Public Policy Polling, had Dewhurst at 41 percent, and Cruz at 12 percent.

But the race is still in flux, and Cruz's conservative crusade has attracted endorsements from hard-line senators including Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), as well as groups including the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. He was recently featured on the conservative trend-setting magazine National Review, which called him "the next great conservative hope."

Also in the race is former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who is known as more of a centrist, and Texas Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones.