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On the same day this week that House Tea Party Caucus co-founder Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., announced she won't seek re-election, the fortunes of another Tea Party favorite continued to soar.
Freshman GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas headlined a big fundraiser thrown by the New York Republican Party in the heart of Manhattan. More than 600 Republicans gathered to write checks to their struggling party, which has no statewide officeholders.
But it was not exactly a welcoming committee that awaited Cruz outside the Grand Hyatt hotel.
"How many dead? Go home, Ted!" chanted several dozen advocates of tougher gun laws. They waved signs scolding Cruz for his vote blocking a bipartisan measure expanding background checks for gun buyers.
"I think it's really ridiculous, all these people coming to New York to raise money when their voting records are really diametrically opposed to what New Yorkers want — and what the American people want — when it comes to gun safety," said Leah Gunn Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.
Others protested Cruz's efforts to block the pathway to citizenship promised to millions of immigrants who are in the United States illegally in the Senate's bipartisan immigration bill.
Ramiro Luna, a Dallas college student originally from Mexico, said his family entered the U.S. illegally when he was a child.
"I flew in from Texas yesterday just to come and protest against Ted Cruz," he said. "We're not afraid of him. We're going to chase him wherever he goes and let him know that the immigrant community exists and that we have a voice."
But inside the fundraiser, Jim Castro-Blanco, a lawyer, said he was happy to have Cruz, the Canadian-born son of a Cuban immigrant, headlining the fundraiser.
"He's been a very, very articulate and powerful speaker for the Republican Party," Castro-Blanco said. "As a Latino, it's very heartening for me to see somebody out of Texas come to New York and really be the voice of the conservative Republicans in this state."
Not all those Republicans were happy, though, about this Tea Party hard-liner who voted against federal emergency aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Reps. Peter King and Michael Grimm boycotted the fundraiser.
Still, New York Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, a son-in-law of Richard Nixon, was making no apologies. "Ted Cruz is very smart, very able and he's got political guts," Cox said.
Later, taking the stage in black cowboy boots, Cruz showed he could also be a crowd-pleaser. "It is great to be with so many friends here in New York City," he said.
Pacing the stage like a revival preacher and speaking without notes, Cruz made no mention of guns, the Sandy aid or the immigration bill. Instead, he performed a political postmortem.
"I'm going to suggest the last election can be explained in two words: 47 percent," he said.
Those words, uttered by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, created the wrong narrative, Cruz said. Much better, he said, was Romney's line, "You built that."
"And yet, as good as it was, it could've been a lot better. Because to whom was it addressed? It was addressed to the 53 percent. It was addressed to the people who'd already built their businesses," Cruz said. "How much better would it have been if Romney had campaigned and said, 'You can build that'?"
It's what Cruz called "opportunity conservatism" — reaching out to low-income voters with a free-market message. And it's one being brought, he added, by a new kind of Republican.
"If you sit back and you list who are the brightest stars in the Republican Party, who are the most effective [advocates] for free-market principles," he said, "you come up with names like Marco Rubio, like Mike Lee, like Rand Paul, like Pat Toomey, like Scott Walker."
And, someone yelled out, "Ted Cruz!" Cruz just nodded and chuckled.
Michigan Republican Party leader Saul Anuzis, who attended the New York fundraiser, said Cruz appeared in Michigan two weeks earlier.
"We ... had a huge success with Cruz there," he said. "I think people are looking for the new voice of the Republican Party, and Ted Cruz is obviously offering one of those alternative voices."
It's a voice being heard in more and more places, and it's fueling speculation about a Cruz presidential bid in 2016. Cruz has said before he would be eligible to be president — and he hasn't ruled out a run.
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