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Rick Perry's Loss Is Ted Cruz's Gain

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (left)  support among Republican voters nationally is neither wide nor deep. Meanwhile, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is busily ascending the GOP escalator.

Tuesday, Rick Perry's campaign announced it could no longer pay his staffers around the country and released them to find other work. His fundraising had dried up. It's potentially an ignominious end to a noteworthy political career that spanned more than 30 years.

Four years ago, fundraising acumen was considered one of Perry's strong points when he belatedly announced his run for the White House and raised $17 million in the first seven weeks of his campaign. In 2015, it's a different story. His campaign is on the ropes and out of money. Not even Texas is solidly behind the governor this year. Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and a host of other Republican presidential candidates are successfully drilling in Texas for gushers of campaign contributions.

If this were a presidential election before Citizens United, Perry's campaign would be finished. But his superPAC raised $17 million and so Perry's quest for the presidency lives on.

Perry's Opportunity and Freedom PAC has already begun setting up what is essentially a shadow campaign in Iowa and other early primary states, hiring staff and running ads. But the fact that Perry's actual campaign has run out of money is indicative of a deeper problem also reflected in his low poll numbers: He's got some conservative millionaires on his side, but his support among Republican voters nationally is neither wide nor deep.

His campaign is like a sick patient in the best room in the hospital with HBO on the TV. With his blood pressure (polling numbers) so low, it's uncertain Perry's PAC money can save him.

If the former Lone Star governor is about to change destinations and punch his ticket to the also very nice and lucrative Corporate Board of Directors Island, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is busily ascending the up escalator to GOP Presidential Floor No. 2.

As in second place to Donald Trump in one of the latest Republican presidential polls. There have been several post-GOP-debate polls, and in the aggregate Cruz's numbers are up. Surging 7 points in one poll, 6 in an another, Cruz along with Carly Fiorina, Rubio and Ben Carson made the debate winners' circle.

Trump, Fiorina, Carson, Cruz. If the Democratic primary is about passing the torch from one seasoned political veteran to the next, the Republican primary has been, so far, completely the opposite — outsiders and mavericks lead the way.

The Texas senator's political career has been defined by his repeatedly poking his finger in the eye of the Republican hierarchy in Washington, D.C. If Cruz is hated by the Senate majority leader and the speaker of the House, he is loved by the Tea Party base for sticking to his conservative guns, consequences be damned.

Ted Cruz has been campaigning heavily in the South. In Mississippi, Tea Party favorite (and failed Senate candidate) state Sen. Chris McDaniel joined Cruz's campaign across the state as he spoke to enthusiastic and overflow crowds.

Cruz learned while running for the U.S. Senate in Texas that the key to a Republican primary victory was not to let anybody get to the right of him. In today's GOP, it's an excellent strategy. And unlike Trump or Carson or Rubio or Fiorina, Cruz can point to his record in the Senate to claim the conservative high ground. Tea Party Republicans know it. They applauded every time he threatened to grind the federal government to a halt. It's part of what's made him the most popular politician in Texas, stealing that title from Perry, the state's longest-serving governor.

Cruz's strategy is simple — hang in there until there are just two Republican candidates remaining and be the conservative alternative to the moderate Republican. He's still faces long odds, but unlike Perry, Cruz is unlikely to do himself in with an "Oops" moment in a debate.

Champion debater at Princeton, editor of the Harvard Law Review, solicitor general of Texas, Cruz has argued nine times before the U.S. Supreme Court. Thinking on his feet is one of his strongest assets. Follow him on the campaign trail, and you'll see Republican voters come away both thrilled with his conservative language and promises and surprised — amazed, in fact — at his eloquence.

As former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst discovered in 2012 in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, when he was expected to crush this unknown candidate, you underestimate Ted Cruz at your political peril.

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