LE MARS, Iowa - Sen. Ted Cruz has visited the presidential testing grounds of Iowa three times in less than three months, but the Texas Republican is coy when asked directly whether he's ruled out running for president in 2016.
"My focus is 100 percent on the U.S. Senate," Cruz told reporters while leaving a fundraiser here for fellow tea partier Rep. Steve King who represents this part of the state. "It is a tremendous honor to be here, the reception has been very warm, very encouraging and my focus is on the substance of the battles we have right now. … My focus is 100 percent on the U.S. Senate because that is where these fights are being fought."
Three years out from the next presidential election, Cruz is on a two-day swing of the state. Today he went on King's annual pheasant hunt here in the northwest part of Iowa. It's also a fundraiser for King's congressional campaign and has become a must-stop for potential presidential candidates.
The congressman is a sought-after endorsement from candidates before the caucuses. In 2012, Rick Santorum accompanied King on his pheasant hunt right before the voters here caucused, but King eventually chose not to endorse.
Wearing a navy checked shirt and jeans, Cruz told reporters he bagged two pheasants on the hunt. He joked with the crowd of about 250 that the group of 27 hunters scared some pheasants so badly they would be "in therapy for years."
Cruz told King's constituents the conservative congressman was "utterly fearless, a very rare commodity on Capitol Hill."
Cruz's speech was similar to one he gave Friday night in Des Moines when he addressed the Iowa Republican Party's annual Ronald Reagan dinner.
As he did in that appearance, he spent much of his speech today on his continued opposition to the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. Last month, he spoke for 21 hours on the Senate floor to try and urge his colleagues to fund the government without funding the ACA. He also helped to shut down the government for 16 days in order to try and stop the funding of the health care law.
King, who backed Cruz's efforts, said of the health care plan: "It's not dead yet, but we are not done beating on it yet."
"Almost everybody there wants to be president of the United States, but there aren't a lot that will stand up and take his kind of leadership position this year," King said referring to the Senate.
Cruz urged the supportive crowd at King's annual Col. Bud Day Defenders of Freedom event to keep fighting, telling them, "There is nothing more potent than when the American people stand up and hold our elected officials accountable."
When asked after the speech about polls that show Republicans have suffered politically from the shutdown more than the president or Democrats, Cruz said, "In terms of politics, Republicans win when we stand for principle - that's what we need to do and that's our path to victory."
An ABC News poll out this month after the shutdown showed Americans expressed a 63 percent unfavorable view of the party compared to 32 percent who expressed support. The survey showed Democrats, by contrast, had an even split in the basic measure of popularity. The same survey also showed the tea party is now viewed favorably by only 26 percent of those polled, with support of the group at a new low in the three-plus years since the movement emerged.
On Friday, King did an interview with the Iowa Public Television program "Iowa Press" and according to Radio Iowa reporter O. Kay Henderson, King said Cruz realizes the "extraordinary ride" he's been on when it comes to attention from supporters within the party, but he also expressed some caution.
"Anybody that steps up into the national arena and picks up all the press that a person like Ted Cruz is now and others have and will in the future, is that staying power - is it theirs or does the public lose its attention span?" King asked on the show, noting he has had "some intense, one-on-one conversations" with Cruz.
"I do believe that he is a full-spectrum, constitutional conservative and there's no question he's a very smart guy, so we will see," King said.
Attendees at today's event were supportive of Cruz, but as many Iowans are, some were skeptical of whether they would support a presidential bid this early on.
Doug Jauer from Hinton said he thinks he could "eventually" support Cruz, but added that he thinks Cruz "has a lot to learn before he goes there, but I think eventually he would be a good presidential candidate."
Dick Schlitter said he wasn't sure because he "need(s) to know more about him."
"He's a fairly new guy on the political scene," Schlitter said, but added that Cruz was "a courageous man" because he "stood up in the face of criticism."
But Ramona Boese, who said she "specifically" came today to hear Cruz, has already made up her mind, even all these years out. When asked whether she thinks she could support a Cruz presidential candidacy, she did not pause: "Absolutely, in a heartbeat."
This story has been updated since it was first posted.