Some of Sen. Ted Cruz's GOP colleagues in Congress have grown frustrated with his tactics on defunding the 2010 health care law. But many of the Republicans angling to join Cruz in the Senate, especially those already serving in Washington and those in competitive primaries, have gotten on board with the plan now most closely associated with the firebrand Texan. From the entire GOP field in Georgia, to an establishment candidate in Alaska, to a handful of long-shot challengers running against GOP incumbents, defunding Obamacare has emerged as the top budget priority among the class of potential Republican Senate freshmen of 2015.
The Republican field to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., provides the sharpest example of how Cruz's approach -- to block any appropriations bill that continues funding for Obamacare -- has taken hold in GOP Senate primaries. Reps. Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston all signed the August letter from 80 House Republicans urging their leadership not to include funding for the health care law in any new spending bills. (Broun was one of the GOP House members who crossed the Capitol to watch some of Cruz's long floor speech in person earlier this week.) The other major Republican candidates, Karen Handel and David Perdue, took the same tack, guaranteeing that if Georgia elects a Republican senator in 2014, he or she will be a potential Cruz ally on this issue.
Not all House Republicans running for Senate took a specific pro-Cruz stand -- though all of them did vote for a GOP continuing resolution that stripped funding from the health care law. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., declined to take a public position before the House set its course last week.
But every other House Republican running for Senate staked out a position like Cruz's. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., did not sign the House letter, but at the end of August recess, he told local conservative columnist Jason Tolbert that tying Obamacare delays to funding the rest of the government was reasonable. "If we as a Congress pass legislation that funds all the government except for parts of Obamacare that are discretionary enforcement mechanisms, I think it's up to the president to say why is he being so stubborn and so reluctant to fund all the government and its many important functions ... just to hang onto a program, Obamacare, that he acknowledges is crumbling before our very eyes," Cotton said. And freshman Rep. Steve Daines, who Republicans expect to carry their flag in Montana's open Senate seat, signed onto the House letter, as did Rep. Bill Cassidy, who's running against Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana.
The trend of GOP Senate challengers siding with Cruz extends to outside challengers, especially those in competitive primaries. On Wednesday, Alaska's GOP Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell -- who is generally considered an establishment Republican -- told the Daily Caller he would "fully support any attempt to defund and repeal Obamacare" and "will stand and work with Senators like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee" if he defeats Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, next year. That prompted Joe Miller's campaign to chime in, noting that the 2010 Republican Senate nominee had signed the Senate Conservatives Fund pledge to "oppose any ... budget resolution that provides funding to implement" any part of Obamacare and arguing that Miller was more in line with Cruz and Lee's wing of the GOP.
Colorado Senate candidates Ken Buck (the 2010 nominee) and Owen Hill, two of three declared candidates to oppose Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, have also signed the SCF pledge, as has the likely Republican nominee in Michigan: Terri Lynn Land. On Wednesday, North Carolina state House Speaker Thom Tillis sent a fundraising email saying he's pledged to "vote to repeal, defund ... and stop Obamacare in any way possible," as have several other GOP candidates to take on Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.
Long-shot candidates are also using the position to differentiate themselves from GOP front-runners. The most high-profile example is Kentucky's Matt Bevin, who has also signed onto the SCF pledge, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- like much of the Senate GOP conference, even those with primary challengers -- has not supported Cruz's approach. Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a heavy favorite to win the state's open Senate seat, has a host of primary challengers pushing the Obamacare issue, too.
Earlier this week, Cruz spent a fairly lonely 21 hours speaking against funding the law on the Senate floor. But Cruz has a host of potential allies seeking to stand with him in the upper chamber in 2015.