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Ted Cruz, stoking 2016 talk, plans March trip to Iowa

(David J. Phillip/AP) (David J. Phillip/AP)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a tea party favorite, will speak at a homeschooling rally in Iowa next month, signaling his continued interest in a possible 2016 presidential bid.

The event, which will take place on March 18 at the Iowa state capitol in Des Moines, will be hosted by the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators (NICHE), a politically-engaged group that has previously hosted presidential contenders. In 2011, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) spoke at a similar "Homeschool Day at the Capitol," as did pizza magnate Herman Cain and former congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex.).

Vicki Crawford, a NICHE organizer, confirmed the appearance in a phone interview, and said the group is excited to welcome Cruz back to the Hawkeye State and offer him its headlining speaking slot at the rally.

"Senator Cruz is very supportive of educational freedom," Crawford said. "He's a perfect match for us. He's been a courageous voice in the Senate." And, she added, "I think he'd be a wonderful choice to step into the ring in 2016."

Cruz's upcoming appearance underscores his popularity among Iowa Republicans, especially social conservatives, said Chuck Laudner, a veteran Iowa GOP consultant who advised former senator Rick Santorum's 2012 Iowa campaign.

"The homeschool event will have hundreds of people there, it's a huge event, and these are the people who organize, communicate, and build a ready-made foundation for any caucus campaign in Iowa," Laudner said. "They are looped in and they will fight for you, if you can win them over. I know a lot of them already like Cruz, and this will be a big forum - a red-letter date."

Cruz traveled to Iowa several times last year, including a stop in October, when he headlined the Iowa GOP's Ronald Reagan dinner. During that visit, he also traveled to western Iowa, where he went on a pheasant hunt with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a key political figure in the run-up to the Iowa Republican caucuses, the first nominating contest of the presidential race.

Steve Deace, a conservative talk-radio host in Iowa, said Cruz's flurry of Iowa visits over the past year are "very helpful" to him as conservatives mull over what could be a large Republican field.

"People are doing a much earlier vetting process, since they don't want the establishment to pick the nominee," Deace said. "I think his base is as strong as anybody else. It's not in the bag yet, but he has the ability to put together a coalition. Speaking at this particular event is smart."

A Washington Post-ABC poll last month showed Cruz's support among Republicans nationally at 12 percent, in fourth place behind Rep. Paul Paul Ryan (Wis.), former Florida governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Among tea party supporters — who made up about one-fifth of the Republicans polled — Cruz had the lead, with 28 percent.

Robert Costa is a national political reporter at The Washington Post.

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