This morning at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, Senator Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president. Cruz, a first-term senator who upset former Lieutenant Governor (and fellow Houstonian) David Dewhurst in the 2012 election, quickly become a favorite of the Tea Party movement with his uncompromising rhetoric and hardball tactics—in 2013, he staged a 21-hour filibuster to protest the Affordable Care Act, and later in the year, against the advice of many of his Republican colleagues, masterminded a 16-day government shutdown.
As the first candidate, Republican or Democrat, to formally enter the 2016 presidential race, Cruz is receiving extensive national and even international attention. But the story also has a local dimension. Cruz’s father arrived in Texas in 1957 after fleeing Cuba, eventually working his way through UT-Austin. His mother, a Delaware native, earned a degree in mathematics from Rice and became a computer programmer. Although he was born in Alberta, Canada, where his parents were working in the oil and gas industry, Cruz grew up in Houston, attending Faith West Academy and Second Baptist High School before moving east to attend Princeton University and Harvard Law School. (Because his mother was a US citizen at the time of his birth, Cruz was born with dual Canadian and American citizenship and is almost certainly eligible to be president. He renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2013.)
In his speech this morning, Cruz recalled his childhood: “Imagine [a] teenage boy being raised in Houston, hearing stories from his dad about prison and torture in Cuba, hearing stories about how fragile liberty is […]. In the 1980s, oil prices crater and his parents’ business goes bankrupt. Heading off to school [at Princeton] over a thousand miles away from home, in a place where he knew nobody, where he was alone and scared, and his parents going through bankruptcy meant there was no financial support at home, so at the age of 17 he went to get two jobs to help pay his way through school.”
After earning his law degree from Harvard and clerking for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Cruz returned to Houston and went into private practice at Cooper, Carvin, and Rosenthal, where he rose to lead the firm’s Supreme Court and national appellate litigation practice. In 2003 he was appointed Solicitor General of Texas by then–Attorney General Greg Abbott, serving in the position for five years, during which he argued nine cases before the Supreme Court. In 2008 he returned to private practice in Houston and began preparing his insurgent 2012 Senate campaign.
There have been several presidents with Houston connections—Lyndon Johnson’s most important early patrons were George and Herman Brown of Houston-based construction giant Brown & Root (now Kellogg Brown & Root); in 1958 George H.W. Bush moved his oil company, Zapata Petroleum Corporation, from Midland to Houston, where he launched his first, unsuccessful political campaign for US Senate in 1966, and where he raised his eldest son, George W. Bush.
Cruz, however, is possibly the first presidential candidate since 1980 to actually make Houston his campaign headquarters. Johnson ran both his 1960 and 1964 campaigns out of Washington, DC. In 1980 Bush père based the political action committee for his abortive presidential campaign in Houston—where he had help from a rising Republican operative named Karl Rove—but he subsequently ran his 1988 and 1992 campaigns out of DC. Bush fils based his 2000 campaign in Austin and his 2004 campaign in DC.
Adding further intrigue to Cruz’s announcement is the clash it sets up between him and the Bush dynasty. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, son of H.W. and brother of W., has already established himself as the favorite of the Republican establishment even though he hasn’t officially announced his candidacy. In a New Yorker profile last June, Cruz criticized the idea of nominating “another establishment moderate” like John McCain or Mitt Romney. “Hasn’t worked in four decades,” he added.
The race for the 2016 Republican nomination is already chockfull of candidates with Houston roots. In addition to Cruz and Bush, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, the son of former US Representative Ron Paul—whose electoral district included Galveston—is seen as likely to run. And don't forget Rick Perry, who informally kicked off his 2012 campaign with a "Call to Prayer" at NRG Stadium. Now that Cruz has fired the opening shot of the campaign, is Houston in for a political civil war?