Cuban-American Ted Cruz’s successful bid to succeed retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison—which came after he easily dispatched a primary opponent who had the strong backing of Texas’s Republican establishment—was seen as an affirmation of the tea party movement’s power. His victory prompted immediate comparisons to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another young conservative Latino on the rise.
Cruz is expected to be a strong intellectual voice for the Far Right in the Senate, following in the iconoclastic mold of Republicans Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Summarizing what he would do to enact a conservative agenda, Cruz told National Review, “What it takes is backbone, the willingness to stand and fight for those principles in the face of opposition and derision. Of those who have firm principles, even fewer have the backbones to stand for those principles when the heat is on.”
Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta, where his parents worked in the Canadian oil business. His father’s life story figures prominently into Cruz’s political narrative. Rafael Cruz fought to overthrow the Fulgencio Batista regime in Cuba in the 1950s before fleeing to Texas at the age of 18, with nothing more than $100 sewn into his underwear. He worked as a dishwasher for 50 cents an hour to put himself through the University of Texas, and ultimately started a business in Houston. There, he met Cruz’s mother, an Irish-American who studied math at Rice University.
As a high-school student, Cruz earned scholarship money by entering speech contests organized by the Free Enterprise Institute, in which participants studied the “Ten Pillars of Economic Wisdom,” a libertarian manifesto, and then delivered 20-minute speeches about it. As part of the program, Cruz eventually memorized the Constitution and traveled around Texas discussing conservative ideas. He went on to Princeton, where he was a champion debater. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1995, he clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
After a few years spent with the Washington law firm Cooper, Carvin & Rosenthal, Cruz joined the George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000 as a domestic policy adviser. It was on the campaign trail he met his wife, Heidi Nelson Cruz, another member of the policy team. Both were dispatched to Florida in the chaos of the recount, which then led to jobs in the Bush administration. Cruz served first as associate deputy general at the Justice Department and then as director of the Office of Policy Planning for the Federal Trade Commission.
He returned to Texas in 2003, when he was appointed state solicitor general, making him the youngest person to ascend to the post in the country and the first Hispanic to hold the position in Texas. During his five-year tenure, Cruz argued before the U.S. Supreme Court nine times and participated in a number of high-profile cases, including one in which Texas fought to execute a Mexican citizen who raped and murdered two teenage girls and another in which he defended the display of the Ten Commandments on the state Capitol grounds. Cruz in July 2012 told the Texas Tribune, “We ended up, year after year, arguing some of the biggest cases in the country. There was a degree of serendipity in that, but there was also a concerted effort to seek out and lead conservative fights.”
Cruz was in private practice when he decided to run for the Senate. He was expected to be no match for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who not only had millions of dollars to throw into the race but also the backing of almost every prominent state Republican, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Cruz sank $1 million of his own money into the contest shortly before the primary and held Dewhurst to under 50 percent of the vote to force a runoff. From there, Cruz attracted the attention of grassroots tea partiers and got the backing of such national conservative heavyweights as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, as well as outside groups such as the Club for Growth and Freedom Works.
Dewhurst sought to cast Cruz as a creature of Washington, given his government experience, and suggested that Cruz he did not have the state’s best interests in mind. Cruz portrayed Dewhurst as just another moderate Republican. Cruz ultimately trounced Dewhurst by 14 percentage points. From there, he had little trouble beating his opponent in the general election, Democrat Paul Sadler, a lawyer from Henderson and a former Texas House member.
Naureen Khan contributed to this article.