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Ted Cruz Pitches Himself As The Politician With Outsider Cred

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks in Rockwell City, Iowa, during a campaign stop on Oct. 12.
Charlie Neibergall
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks in Rockwell City, Iowa, during a campaign stop on Oct. 12.

In this presidential campaign, political outsiders are outshining experienced politicians.

To succeed with the conservative Republican base in the early-voting state of Iowa, Ted Cruz will need to win over supporters of both outsiders and insiders vying for the nomination.

At a restaurant in the Mississippi River town of Keokuk, Iowa, this week, the Texas senator addressed a full room over a loudspeaker.

"God bless the great state of Iowa," Cruz said. "I spent most of last week in Washington, D.C., so it is great to be back in America."

If you think Washington just needs some minor adjustments, Cruz said, "I ain't your guy."

Since Cruz was elected to the Senate in 2012, he's developed a reputation for being disliked not just by Democrats, but by many in his own party.

Sandra Johnson, who lives in Keokuk, said that's a reason to like him.

"I'm looking for a non-establishment candidate, definitely," she said. "Because I think they're not in tune with the rest of the country; they're only interested in their own careers a lot of times."

Maybe not surprisingly, Johnson is also drawn to the three candidates who've never held office: billionaire Donald Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric has won him the adoration of many Tea Party conservatives, a group Cruz has also identified with.

In one of his most popular lines, Cruz joked that he would defend the U.S.-Mexico border by shuttering the IRS and sending the tax collectors south.

"Imagine you traveled thousands of miles in the blazing sun. You're swimming across the Rio Grande. And the first thing you see is 90,000 IRS agents," Cruz said, eliciting laughter and applause. "You'd turn around and go home, too."

He took a different tone when he talks about his father's immigration from Cuba. Cruz said his father was a revolutionary who was tortured, beaten and jailed. At one point, he said, his father thought he might die in jail.

"But thankfully, God had different plans for my father. He got out that jail and he fled Cuba in 1957."

Cruz also told a story about his mother, who went to college over her father's objections and became a computer programmer. It was the 1950s, Cruz said, and she deliberately didn't learn to type.

"She said, 'I didn't want to be walking down the hall, and have a man stop me and say, "Sweetheart, would you type this for me?" ' "

That feels like a pitch to women who might be drawn to Carly Fiorina's story of rising from secretary to CEO in the male-dominated corporate world.

Cruz also highlights his wife Heidi, introducing her as "beautiful" and "brilliant," and self-deprecatingly joking that she has "exceptionally poor eyesight."

A Harvard Business School grad, Heidi Cruz said she wrestled with whether to take time away from her career at the investment firm Goldman-Sachs to join the campaign.

"Just like every one of you, I had a choice," she told Iowa voters.

She's been appearing alongside her husband and appealing to a traditional GOP voting block — evangelicals.

"This is where God has placed all of us. Not Ted and I, but all of us in this room, to take our country back," she said.

Cruz's Iowa campaign director, Bryan English, says the path to victory is a "slow, steady build" toward the Iowa Caucuses in February, pulling support from across the GOP field.

"We're not just going after the guys that are ahead of us in the polls; we're looking to pull the support from the folks that are below us in the polls as well," English said. "We want everyone to come to caucus for us."

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Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.

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