HOUSTON -- Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is one of the few Republicans these days described as a potential "rock star" for the party. As a freshman, he is already starting to shake things up in Washington.
So, what makes this Lone Star lawmaker tick?
Time at home with his wife and two young daughters in Houston is extremely important to Cruz. It gets him away from Washington's hustle and bustle. Family devotions take priority for the Cruz family although daddy faces pretty important work when he goes to Washington.
In the two months since Cruz descended on Capitol Hill, he's blazed a pretty remarkable path. Despite a resumé that includes Harvard Law School, Cruz started as a political unknown, registering just 2 percent in the polls.
Tea Party-backing and a strong message, however, led to a primary win against GOP Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and powered him to the Senate.
"It really was breathtaking, and it was a testament to the grassroots," Cruz told CBN News. "It was a testament to what, 'we the people,' can do standing together."
The Cruz family is used to overcoming long odds.
Cruz's Cuban father arrived in the States at the age of 18, speaking no English with only $100 to his name. He went from his first job as dishwasher to regularly working seven days a week and eventually put himself through college.
Now, after decades in business, his father travels as a Baptist pastor.
"My dad has been my hero my whole life, but what I've always found most extraordinary about his story is how commonplace it is," Cruz said.
Politics and Faith
Cruz's career follows an upbringing filled with political discussion around the family table. He even memorized the U.S. Constitution as a teen in high school.
"I gave probably 80 speeches all over the state on free market economics and the Constitution, and it became really my passion," Cruz said. "What I wanted to do in life is fight to defend those principles and I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to do that."
In college, Cruz began to connect the Constitution with his Christian faith. His mentor, Princeton professor and conservative Christian Robby George helped him embrace the concept of natural law.
"Life, liberty, and property, the fundamental natural rights of man are given to every one of us by God, and the role of government fundamentally is to protect those rights," Cruz said.
That philosophy became central to Cruz's political core. But while it dominates his political life, his strong faith is central to his entire life. Cruz is a Southern Baptist and doesn't shy away from talking about his faith.
"At the end of the day, faith is not organized religion; it's not going to a church. It is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior," Cruz told CBN News.
But he's determined not to use his faith as a weapon.
"I think anyone in politics you've got a special obligation to avoid being a Pharisee,"to avoid ostentatiously wrapping yourself in your faith," Cruz said. "Because I think in politics, it's too easy for that to become a crutch, for that to be politically useful."
The Republican Obama?
Since Cruz has been in Washington, the freshman senator has:
- Taken strong stands against increasing the debt ceiling
- Voted against John Kerry as secretary of state
- Faced criticism for grilling Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, suggesting that there are unanswered questions about whether the former senator received compensation for giving paid speeches with connections to radical militant groups.
Democrats and even some Republicans think he crossed the line with his tone and innuendo at Hagel's hearing. But conservatives applaud his approach.
The National Review ran the headline: "First Class Cruz: The Next Great Conservative Hope." Former Bush strategist Mark McKinnon has called him "The Republican Barack Obama."
The media has given him rock star status but Cruz pays it no mind.
"I try to pay very little attention to the media," the Texas lawmaker said. "It is, as you know, a fickle creature. They can say anything today, and tomorrow, it can change dramatically."
Standing for Principal
For now, Cruz said he's focused on the job at hand and that includes a new Republican Party.
"I think President Obama is the most radical president we've ever seen, but I think an awful lot of Republicans fail to stand for principle and contributed to getting us in this mess," he said.
Heidi Cruz knows her husband will stand for principle and she learned something else about him during that uphill battle for the Senate.
"He only got better and better as things got tougher and tougher, and that gave voters and certainly us as his family just a lot of confidence that's he's pretty good," she told CBN News.
But Cruz isn't so sure that description applies at home.
"I'm not sure that assessment is always true around the dinner table," he said.
But it sure is true in national politics.