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As the Republican convention kicks off in Tampa, the party will highlight some of the politicians who could be its future stars. We're going to hear about two of them now who both speak tonight. In a moment, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, tonight's keynote speaker. But first, the Republican Senate candidate Ted Cruz. If he wins in November he'll be the first Hispanic senator from Texas.
From member station KUT in Austin, Ben Philpott reports on Cruz's journey to the convention floor.
BEN PHILPOTT, BYLINE: Rafael Edward Cruz, known as Ted, was actually born in Canada. His father was working in the oil industry in Calgary at the time. Cruz's father was born in Cuba and fought for Fidel Castro during the Revolution. He then turned against Castro and fled to the U.S. before Castro took power. Ted Cruz talks a lot about his father in speeches and on the campaign trail.
RAFAEL EDWARD CRUZ: He was 18 years old and didn't speak a word of English. He had no possessions but he had $100 sowed into his underwear. And he went and got a job as a dishwasher making 50 cents an hour. He worked seven days a week. He paid his way through school. He got a job and then he started a small business in the oil and gas industry.
PHILPOTT: Ted Cruz grew up in Houston. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton before graduating from Harvard Law School. Cruz dove into politics while working on the 2000 George W. Bush presidential campaign. He began to make a name for himself in Texas as the state's solicitor general, from 2003 to 2008. His time there included arguing for Texas in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Then, in 2011, Cruz launched a bid to win the Republican nomination to replace retiring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. He told NPR people thought he didn't have a chance.
CRUZ: You know, when we started this campaign a year and a half ago, there wasn't anybody in the state that thought I had a prayer. I was at two percent in the polls. And the margin of error was three percent.
PHILPOTT: But his campaign caught fire in the spring as he railed against President Obama and the Republican establishment that, he said, was just as complicit in raising the debt and limiting freedoms.
CRUZ: All over this country, we are seeing a great awakening where millions of Texans, millions of Americans are standing up and saying we are fed up with the same tired establishment incumbents of both parties and we're looking for new leaders who will stand for principle.
PHILPOTT: Cruz's campaign caught the attention of national conservative activists and Tea Party favorites like South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint and former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. That support helped propel Cruz to a July 31st runoff victory in the GOP Senate primary. Almost immediately, the national party tapped Cruz for a speaking spot at the convention in Tampa.
His dynamic speaking style is expected to fire up the GOP base tonight. But on Sunday, the rising star may have made his first misstep. When speaking at a Faith and Freedom Coalition rally, he told the crowd they have so many things to be thankful for.
CRUZ: So many blessings, including even we can be thankful for Hurricane Isaac.
CRUZ: If nothing else, it kept Joe Biden away.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
PHILPOTT: It was a joke about Vice President Biden's canceled trip to Florida, but it's given Democrats campaign fodder as the storm heads in the direction of New Orleans.
For NPR News, I'm Ben Philpott in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.