This Santa is actually helping collect data for the Cruz campaign  
(Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post)

This post has been updated

I've logged thousands of miles in the air and on the road chasing Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) from campaign stop to campaign stop around the country. There was the ritzy fundraising dinner in a Times Square hotel, the time he stood on the back of a pickup truck in 100-degree heat outside a fried chicken joint in Tupelo, Miss., a Sunday it was hard to tell if he was preaching or politicking at a church, and many, many recitations of his stump speech. So many.

And guess what? There's a lot more Cruz to come! As the Republican presidential candidate embarks on an ambitious bus tour across Iowa on Monday, here are some things I've learned from reporting about him over the past few months.

1.) Cruz sticks to the script

Cruz rarely deviates from the script. He rails against the "Washington cartel," assails the Obama administration and vows to shut down government agencies. His stump speech has, naturally, shifted a bit as the race has gone on and news events have occurred -- he is now adding some new language, including the term "undocumented Democrats" as he looks to draft behind Donald Trump -- but the bones are the same and he sticks to them. Cruz seems more comfortable delivering his speech lately, more sure of himself after nearly 10 months on the campaign trail. His backers value the fact that he's preternaturally on message, believing that the chance of him torpedoing his candidacy with a verbal gaffe is low.

Read: The end of the Trump-Cruz bromance? Not if Cruz has his way.

2.) His rallies have gotten bigger and flashier

Most stops during primary season (ones featuring a candidate named Trump excluded) are no-frills, low-budget affairs, typically held in the ballroom of a hotel off the highway or in a diner where a presidential candidate will interrupt someone's breakfast. But over the past month, Cruz's gatherings have become bigger and flashier - yooge, to put it in the words of Cruz's odd political ally, Donald Trump. Cruz is often shadowed by a videographer. The results were on display during a pre-Christmas jaunt the candidate took on a private plane. Attendees were treated to a slickly produced video touting how Cruz wasn't expected to go anywhere when he entered the race and then came, saw, conquered and proved all the pundits and haters wrong. It felt more like a general election swing and illustrated that Cruz has a lot of money at his disposal. They were larger, more produced, more elaborate, more befitting of someone who views himself as the Republican nominee. There was even a data-collecting Santa. Cruz still dressed casually on the trail, though, where he tends to wear a lot of flannel shirts. He almost always sports black ostrich-skin cowboy boots.

Read: Cruz’s quiet fundraising strength: A network of wealthy donors

3.) So who shows up to these things?

Cruz's rallies tend to be pretty packed, both with die-hard supporters clad in Cruz swag and people on the fence. The crowd tends to be overwhelmingly white. Age-wise, it is a mix -- there are quite a few middle-age and older people, but also young families. People are fond of shouting or chanting. Many yell "Amen!" when Cruz says something they agree with. There are also plays on the senator's name: "Cruz control!" and "Cruz missile!" have been popular, as has the simple "Cruz, Cruz, Cruz!" Older women tend to aww when Cruz talks about his daughters, ages 5 and 7. Many voters I've spoken with at his events say they are sick and tired of Washington, but like that Cruz has some experience inside government -- and that he is trying to implode it from within. The majority of the undecided voters I have spoken with have said they were very impressed after hearing Cruz speak. Many of them said they were undecided coming into a rally and supported him when it was over. Cruz does have his super fans. There was the one who made Cruz into "Captain Constitution."

And this guy, who made a Cruz yarmulke by hand

4.) His theater background

Cruz was once an aspiring actor, even thinking about heading to Hollywood. In Harvard Law School, he acted in "The Crucible," but was once so hung over after drinking Everclear that he had to bow out of his part. Cruz told the Boston Globe that he doubts he has since imbibed the grain liquor, so the episode hasn’t repeated itself on the campaign trail. But the politician's theater background is evident on the stump. He knows exactly when to stop talking to maximize applause. As the audience claps, he gazes out with a self-satisfied smile, nods and either clasps his hands or gives himself a small burst of applause -- like a theater actor taking a bow after a performance. He chuckles at his own jokes. His rallies unfold like a play in a three acts: the jokey warm-up, the red meat, the optimistic end. Cruz growls a little when talking about the things he wants to do (repeal every word of Obamacare! Abolish the IRS!) and adopts the cadence of a preacher when speaking in churches. He likes to walk as he talks, deploying use of a wireless microphone. He hates lecterns, to the point where he chucked one aside that was in the middle of a stage in Georgia last month.

Read: A lot of people just don’t like Ted Cruz. How come that’s okay with him?

5.) He's a funny guy

Cruz is known in Washington for being abrasive and disliked, but he's pretty funny, friendly and approachable on the campaign trail. Cruz specializes in dad jokes and political humor, telling cute anecdotes about his daughters, especially about when they are feisty or somehow undermine him.

Ladies and gentlemen, he'll be in Iowa all month, doling out his standards. They include:

Joking about sending 90,000 IRS employees to the southern border, because if you saw them after a perilous journey, "you'd go home, too." He once asked a group of people in West Texas what the difference was between regulators and locusts. Cruz said you can't use pesticides on regulators. "Wanna bet?" he recounts one man saying. He also does a suite of impressions on the trail, including one of Ronald Reagan (whom he continually mentions) and Darth Vader, as well as scenes from his favorite movie, "The Princess Bride." Inconceivable! In Charleston, S.C., he acted out a scene from "The Simpsons."

Read: Here’s what it sounds like when Generation X runs for president

6.) He is a mingler

Cruz's wife insists that he is shy, but he spends a whole lot of time meeting voters after his speeches. He tends to run behind, in part because he spends so much time shaking hands, doling out hugs and signing copies of his book or a pocket-size version of the Constitution, with his photo on the cover, that the campaign gives away at many events. A staffer snaps photos of the senator with supporters. He didn't however, talk to a New Hampshire guy who brings his goat to meet presidential candidates.

Read: Heidi Cruz trying to close her biggest deal: Making her husband president

7.) He's a lawyer who likes data and strategy

Cruz often tells crowds that he's a "data guy" who likes numbers.

As it turns out, data is a key component to his campaign, which is employing a sophisticated analytics system it thinks will help him win. A poker and chess player, he also likes strategy. His answers to questions about his campaign sometimes sound like a political strategy sessions complete with talk of delegate counts as a way to prove that he can win.

Read: Cruz campaign credits psychological data and analytics for its rising success

Many of Cruz's answers to questions tend to be quite long. A former Princeton University debate champion who spent years as a lawyer, Cruz gives very long answers to questions, laying out his case until it reaches its logical conclusion. He enjoys winning arguments, sometimes deflecting questions or turning them around. He plots out his responses, as a lawyer making an argument in front of a judge would.

Read: Cruz once clerked for a chief justice, but he’s no longer a friend of the court