They say you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. So it's pretty important day for Ted Cruz in Iowa.

The fiery Texas conservative senator is in the first-in-the-nation caucus state, where he'll headline the Iowa GOP's summer picnic and address a meeting of evangelical pastors. It's his first appearance in Iowa since joining the Senate this year.

And it's a pretty safe bet it won't be his last.

A year ago at this time, Cruz was closing in on the biggest political win of his career. He went on to topple Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a Republican Senate primary that once looked like it was in Dewhurst's back pocket. Since that time, two important things have become clear: 1) Cruz is determined to be the Senate's leading conservative antagonist and 2) He is thinking about running for president.

Both of which bring us to Iowa on Friday. If the prospect of Cruz running for president is ever to materialize into something more serious, he will have to build inroads in the Hawkeye State. This is where conservative activists dominate; the same conservative activists most likely to be receptive to the conservative red meat Cruz has been dishing out during his first five months in the Senate.

Cruz is also visiting some of the other early nominating states. He was in South Carolina earlier this year and is headed to New Hampshire next month. But the Granite State tends to favor more moderate Republicans candidates. And if South Carolina's nominating contest comes after Iowa and New Hampshire in 2016 as it has in years past (we have no reason to think it won't), it's hard to see Cruz having any momentum there without at least a reasonable showing in Iowa.

So, Iowa is potentially a very important state for Cruz's future.

Cruz isn't the only potential 2016er making the rounds in Iowa. In fact, he's not even the only one there now. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will be at the same gathering of pastors at which Cruz is appearing. (And thanks to ABC's Jonathan Karl, we have this priceless photo of Cruz and Paul waiting for their flight to Des Moines Thursday night.) Paul's an Iowa veteran -- he was there in May for the Lincoln Day Dinner.

It's a reminder that if Cruz runs, he will likely have some serious competition in Iowa, from the likes of Paul, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and others.

But he's in the conversation now; a product of the brash conservatism he's exercised that has irked even some in his own party. (See McCain, John.) The question for Cruz is whether he can take what he's done in Washington and Texas on the road and build his following among activists and voters who aren't that familiar with him.

And it all starts in Iowa.


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