FORT WORTH, Texas — After patiently waiting in a line that snaked outside the doorway of a cavernous exhibit hall today, John Justice was just a few feet from reaching his goal — being photographed with Ted Cruz, the U.S. senator and Tea Party favorite.
Wearing a brown tricorn hat adorned with a dangling tea bag and a small Texas flag, Justice, a 57-year-old Republican state convention delegate, proudly clutched a sign proclaiming: “Red White and Cruz.” He also sported a dark blue Ted Cruz T-shirt.
“He tells you what he’s going to do, and he does it,” Justice, a contractor from Willis, near Houston, said of Cruz. “He’s not like all the other weasels up there.”
To no one’s surprise, Cruz was a star-spangled celebrity at the three-day Texas Republican Convention, hailed as the biggest state political convention in the nation, which drew more than 7,000 delegates, alternates and guests and ended today.
To many among the state party’s conservative rank-and-file, he represents the bare-knuckled, uncompromising new approach of the state’s Republican Party, overshadowing Gov. Rick Perry as the Texan they would like to send to the White House.
The gathering, which thundered with contempt for Washington and the Obama administration, showcased an emerging era in the state’s Republican leadership as Perry prepares to leave office in January — after more than 14 years — as the state’s longest-serving governor.
The Republican nominee to succeed him in the November election, Attorney General Greg Abbott, received a booming reception from delegates Friday as he depicted his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, without mentioning her name, as a candidate with a “toxic” record who is embraced by out-of-state liberal elitists. Confetti rained down after Abbott concluded his speech.
But much of the unofficial talk among delegates centered on presidential politics and the possibility that there will be two rival candidates from Texas, Perry and Cruz, when Republicans begin choosing their party’s nominee in 2016.
Perry, who made a disastrous first run for president in 2012, is contemplating a do-over, but some Texans who backed him the first time have shifted their loyalties to the state’s firebrand junior senator.
Many Texans looking for “true conservatives” also have their eyes on candidates outside Texas. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — the son of Ron Paul, the former Texas congressman and former presidential candidate — is also a considered a contender for grass-roots Republican support from Texas. He drew an enthusiastic response when he addressed the convention Friday.