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Ted Cruz brings tea party populism to Florida fundraising circuit

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is visiting South Florida to help the Republican Party raise money — and at the same time audition for donors and activists who could prove valuable if he runs for president.

Cruz, who's become a favorite of the tea party movement and one of his party's most polarizing figures since his 2012 election, will be the keynote speaker for the Palm Beach County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner on Friday.

On Thursday he appears in Sarasota.

The Palm Beach County party's dinner theme is "United We Stand." Party Chairwoman Anita Mitchell said even though many South Florida Republicans aren't as conservative as Cruz, "I think Ted's a great selection."

"There's nobody better than Cruz to come in and say we all come in and love one another," she said.

Many of Cruz' fellow Republicans in the Senate aren't fans. He pushed the strategy that led to last fall's government shutdown, which ended with Republicans retreating in the face of plummeting public approval ratings.

And this week he angered fellow Republicans by using a parliamentary maneuver that forced them to vote to raise the national debt ceiling. He then issued a statement many Republicans and Democrats "are simply not listening to the American people."

So far, Florida voters have mixed views about Cruz. A Quinnipiac University Poll released Jan. 31 found just 9 percent of Florida Republicans would vote for him in a presidential primary. He was far behind former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Just 23 percent of voters said he'd make a good president and 44 percent said he wouldn't. He has room to improve; 33 percent of those surveyed didn't know enough about Cruz to make a judgment.

Cruz will be joined at the Lincoln Day dinner by Dr. Ben Carson, who's also been touted by fans as a presidential candidate.

Carson, a neurosurgeon, has been a conservative favorite since his February 2013 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, when he used the occasion to prescribe solutions to society's ills. Later in the year Carson, who is black, described Obamacare as "the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery."

Also on tap for the dinner is Donald Trump, owner of the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, site of the event. Trump has mentioned himself as a presidential possibility over the years and has been a leader of the so-called birther movement, which attempted to sow doubts about whether President Barack Obama was born in the U.S.

Tickets start at $250 a person, and Mitchell said her goal is to sell out the 600 seats.

Tickets available by calling the Palm Beach County Republican headquarters at 561-686-1616.

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