Is there enough big money to fuel Ted Cruz’s presidential hopes?

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·Political correspondent
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Sen. Ted Cruz, with his wife and daughters, announcing his candidacy for president (Photo: Chris Keane/Reuters)

In the months before Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, launched his presidential bid, one of the central questions he considered was whether he could raise enough money to be a viable national candidate.

It’s a strange paradox for a member who has built such a high profile nationally in a relatively short two years in the Senate. But in the case of Cruz, it’s unclear that his cachet in conservative circles can translate into the monumental amount of cash required to make a credible run at the White House. Because the same quality that brought him grassroots fame — his willingness to dismiss or challenge his Senate colleagues — has also alienated key establishment fundraising sources.

Cruz’s fraught involvement with the formal campaign arm of the Senate GOP, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and his near nonexistent relationship with Texas’ senior senator, former NRSC Chairman John Cornyn , perhaps best illustrate the tough road he has ahead. And also how it could have been easier had he handled his first two years in the Senate a little differently.

Just days after the 2012 election, Cruz agreed to be a vice chairman of the NRSC, to do outreach to the grassroots conservative community he championed then and relies on still. But he did not participate in the committee’s activities at all, and instead worked with the Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF) — Jim DeMint’s legacy conservative group — to run ads against Republican incumbents, much to the consternation of other senators. Instead of gaining access to, and building relationships with, the big-ticket GOP donors affiliated with the NRSC across the country, Cruz made more enemies than friends, according to Senate leadership sources.

He also did not endorse the second-ranked Senate Republican Cornyn for re-election in 2014. This was in stark contrast to the approach taken by potential presidential-primary foe Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who faced a nearly identical situation in his state. Paul dropped his involvement with the SCF, in large part because of the group’s attacks on fellow Kentuckian and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, whose re-election Paul endorsed in 2014 even as conservatives hoped to knock off McConnell in the primary.

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Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas (Photo: David J. Phillip/AP Photo)

“The thing that’s so stunning about this, Cruz could have — had he made some better decisions — could have been a more formidable candidate,” said one Republican operative familiar with Texas politics. “He should have endorsed Cornyn. All these donors in Texas, there’s a sophisticated donor class down there, and they want prominence and expect it. But he wouldn’t support Cornyn when he was running for re-election, and the [establishment] donor community, it was offensive to them.”

There would be “plenty of online money and all of talk radio behind him,” which could offset traditional fundraising outlets, the source said, but noted that Cruz has not focused on Texas, where many candidates, wherever they hail from, find big cash.

Cruz launched his presidential campaign Monday from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., while other similarly profiled candidates have made such announcements from their home states. Candidate Barack Obama announced his campaign in Springfield, Ill., in 2007. Paul will reportedly unveil his campaign in Kentucky later this month.

Cruz is not ignoring Texas entirely, even if it takes him a week to get there. He is scheduled to hold a kickoff Houston fundraiser on March 31. The event is invitation-only, but political operatives who saw the invitation noted that the typical big-money Republican bundling names were missing from the first version of the invite. Cruz raised almost $3 million in Houston for his Senate bid, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

On Tuesday, the Cruz campaign blasted out an email quoting the Politico Playbook as saying that “a little bird” had informed the publication that the Texas Republican had raised $500,000 in his campaign’s first day, online and at a New York fundraiser. A Cruz spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas bankrolled nearly his entire 2012 presidential primary bid in Texas alone and could look to those donors again should he launch a repeat bid this time. Other prospective presidential candidates, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio, have commissioned Texas-based bundlers as their campaign finance chairmen. Christie tapped Dallas-based bundler Ray Washburne, a former top Republican National Committee official. Rubio nabbed Dallas-based George Seay, who once worked for Perry .

Of course, being anti-establishment is part of Cruz’s appeal to a conservative base that hates politics as usual. So others snapping up top Texas-based moneymen might not entirely work against him. The question is whether a candidate who spurns conventional fundraising sources, even in his own state, can win a national nomination.

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Cruz with David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, after speaking at the group’s conference in February (Photo: Joe Skipper/AP Photo)

The conservative Club for Growth and the SCF were the two top donors to Cruz’s 2012 Senate race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics , contributing more than $1 million combined. But it’s easier for those groups to play in Senate races than in presidential politics, which comes at a much higher price tag.

Which leaves the question of self-funding: The last GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, had the luxury of his own money to fall back on.

In a 2013 interview with The New York Times , Cruz and his wife, Heidi, addressed the issue of using their own money toward Cruz’s Senate race. Heidi Cruz is an executive at Goldman Sachs, and in the Times article the Cruzes said they had $1.2 million they discussed dumping into the race.

“We had a conversation at the beginning of the campaign that was, we’re not going to put in a penny … I need to see that other people support you,” Heidi Cruz said at the time. “Because you could spend all our money in a minute with nobody else on board and there we would be, you know? So I said, you guys go around and do all this, the state, the campaign, everything, and let’s see where we get. And if at the last minute, if it’s the difference of win or lose, I’m all in.”

In a Senate race, $1 million could make the difference at the finish line. But in a presidential primary, with multiple well-financed candidates fighting through a months-long slog, that sum would be a drop in the bucket. So the test of who will support Cruz, especially with their wallets, is that much greater.

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