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Cruz sidelined in midterm push

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Republican candidates are not trotting out Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the midterm election campaign, despite his status as one of the party’s rising stars.

While Cruz is a hero to many conservatives, some candidates are leery of appearing with him because he is a polarizing figure who could turn off independents and centrist Republicans.

{mosads}Two of Cruz’s potential rivals for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), are in higher demand, traveling widely to the battleground states that could determine control of the Senate in November.

Political strategists say the disparity illustrates how Paul and Rubio can appeal to a broader swath of the electorate, which is crucial in a general election.

“It’s almost exactly a year ago to the day when [Cruz] led to the government shutdown. That appealed to a narrow and narrowing wing of the Republican Party,” said Rich Galen, a Republican strategist. “For a lot of people, that was over the top, and they’re not comfortable with him.”

Cruz did appear last week at a rally for embattled Sen. Pat Roberts (R) in Kansas, where he urged Tea Party voters to put a divisive primary behind them and unify behind the three-term incumbent. He received a rousing reception in Wichita, helping win over conservatives who supported Milton Wolf, the Tea Party candidate, against Roberts.

But outside of Kansas, Cruz has made few appearances on the stump this year.

He appeared at events in North Carolina in mid-September, for example, but notably did not appear in public with Republican candidate Thom Tillis, who’s locked in a neck-and-neck race with Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan (N.C.). Paul campaigned with Tillis earlier this month. 

But despite his low involvement in the midterm campaign, the Texas senator is a man on the move, making regular trips to presidential battleground states.

The last weekend in September, Cruz traveled to Iowa to campaign for GOP hopeful Rod Blum in the state’s open 1st Congressional District and speak at an event sponsored by the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Cruz is putting a particular emphasis on South Carolina, which has a strong track record of endorsing the eventual winners of the GOP presidential nomination, though the state missed in 2012 by choosing Newt Gingrich. 

On Saturday, he attended a press roundtable in Spartanburg, S.C., sponsored by a Republican women’s group and then joined a get-out-the-vote tailgate with Clemson University students. He then joined an ice cream social with two local GOP groups on Sunday.

GOP strategists say Cruz’s focus on South Carolina will pay dividends in 2016 because the state’s political profile matches well with his blend of social conservatism and traditional Republican views.

“There’s a higher level of importance placed on foreign policy and national security in South Carolina,” said Luke Byars, a Republican strategist who was Bob Dole’s South Carolina campaign manager in 1996.

That could give Cruz an advantage over Paul, who declared in a Time magazine op-ed earlier this year, “I am not an isolationist.”

“If you’re going to be successful in South Carolina in a presidential campaign, you can’t just come in here with one leg of the conservative stool. You have to be able to articulate a vision for national security, strength of domestic policy and the economy, and for social conservative values,” Byars said.

Cruz’s office says the Republican has paid attention to two other important presidential primary states: Iowa and New Hampshire.

He spoke at a Hillsborough County Republican Convention event in Nashua, N.H., on Sept. 6 but did not campaign with Scott Brown, who is running against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). Instead, he stumped with House candidate Marilinda Garcia on Sept. 7.

He appeared at a fundraiser for Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst at the beginning of August.

Cruz also pledged $250,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee last month.

While Republican candidates are hesitant to appear in public with Cruz, they are happy to take his fundraising help behind the scenes. A similar dynamic has emerged among Senate Democrats who rely on President Obama’s fundraising prowess but keep their distance publicly.

Cruz’s office noted Wednesday morning that Ernst, Rep. Tom Cotton (R), who is running for Senate in Arkansas, Alaska candidate Dan Sullivan and Minnesota candidate Mike McFadden attended a fundraiser with Cruz last week in Houston. The event was not previously publicized.

Still, Paul has been a familiar face on the campaign trail while also taking care to cultivate ties in South Carolina, New Hampshire in Iowa. 

He will campaign with Roberts in Kansas on Oct. 28 and with Blum in Iowa on Oct. 22. He will attend a rally with Virginia Senate candidate Ed Gillespie and House of Representatives hopeful Dave Brat on Oct. 15.

Paul also hosted a barbeque for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Sunday and campaigned with North Carolina Senate candidate Thom Tillis on Oct. 1.

He’s also stopped by South Carolina, speaking at the University of South Carolina and College of Charleston on Sept. 30. Paul was also the keynote speaker at the California Republican Party’s fall convention on Sept. 20.

On Sept. 12, the Kentucky senator appeared with Scott Brown at the Republican unity breakfast in New Hampshire. Brown told Paul that weekend, “You can stay at my house,” if he returned to the state before Election Day, according to Fox News.

Paul attended a fundraiser for conservative House Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R) in Rock Hill, S.C., at the end of August.

He spoke at fundraisers for candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks and conservative Rep. Steve King (R) and in Iowa’s 2nd and 4th Congressional districts. 

Republican strategists say Paul is a safer draw for embattled Republican candidates a few weeks before the general election, because he has more crossover appeal.

“Rand Paul has learned all of the libertarian language from his dad but doesn’t appear to have learned much of the crazy from his dad,” Galen said. “He’s much more acceptable, not just in the Republican Party but to a significant number of independents.

Rubio, another 2016 White House hopeful, has proven to be more sought after than Cruz, and he might have quietly exceeded Paul as well.

As with Paul and Cruz, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have figured prominently on his schedule.

Rubio will travel to Iowa on Oct. 28 and 29 to speak at a Ronald Reagan dinner in Scott County and stump with Blum in the 1st District.

He visited New Hampshire in early October to endorse and campaign with Brown and Garcia. On Tuesday, he will touch down in North Dakota to headline an event for Sen. John Hoeven (R), who is not up for reelection, and later this month will fly to South Carolina to attend a state party event.

Last month, Rubio participated in several fundraisers for the Republican National Committee in New York City and Texas. He campaigned for House candidate Barbara Comstock in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District and raised money for New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez in Florida.

In August, Rubio attended a fundraiser for Rep. Jeff Duncan (R) in South Carolina that drew well over a thousand people. He also attended an event for Colorado Senate candidate Cory Gardner (R) and House Rep. Aaron Schock in Illinois.

— This story was updated at 10:19 a.m.

Tags Cory Gardner Jeanne Shaheen John Hoeven Kay Hagan Marco Rubio Mitch McConnell Pat Roberts Rand Paul Ted Cruz Tom Cotton

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