WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz may have presidential aspirations, but he sometimes felt more like a Secret Service agent while working for the man poised to become Texas’ next governor. State Attorney General Greg Abbott would roll his wheelchair so fast inside the Texas Capitol that his staff had to chase after him.
“On that polished marble, he can get moving pretty fast,” recalled Cruz, who was state solicitor general for nearly six years under Abbott. “We’d put our fingers to our ears like we were holding earpieces. And we’d joke about being like Clint Eastwood in ‘In the Line of Fire’ running alongside the presidential limo.”
The stakes have risen for Cruz and Abbott since they were colleagues and buddies in Austin. Cruz became a national tea party sensation by challenging the Republican establishment, even frequently clashing with his party’s bigwigs in the Lone Star state. Abbott, meanwhile, is heavily favored to beat Wendy Davis for the governor’s office Tuesday, giving the firebrand senator a powerful ally back home.
Both insisted that their, big, bright Texas political stars won’t fray their friendship — even if Abbott moves to the middle to govern while Cruz continues to energize the GOP’s most-conservative wing ahead of a possible 2016 White House bid.
“I fully expect that he and I will continue to work together very closely because we share common principles,” Cruz told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
As governor, Abbott would have to contend with a Texas House controlled by a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans. Still, he says he’ll bolster security along the Texas-Mexico border, create jobs and increase spending on roads and highways that are jammed by a booming state population — issues that both state lawmakers and Cruz can support.
“I won’t compromise on core principles,” Abbott said in an AP interview following a rally in a conservative pocket of San Antonio. “But I will use those core principles and work with others to achieve what’s best for Texas.”
The only potential sources of contention for the men, says Rice University political science professor Mark Jones, are federal issues — such as if Abbott reverses current Texas policy and accepts Medicaid expansion under the health care law or embraces a variety of Environmental Protection Agency rules, including this summer’s emission-cutting standards. Neither is likely since Abbott brags about suing the Obama administration 30-plus times on Texas’ behalf, including challenging the constitutionality of the health care law and a bevy of environmental regulations.
“Not only do they have a strong personal relationship, but they don’t have any real political conflict because they aren’t competing for the same space,” Jones said of Abbott and Cruz. “Governor (Rick) Perry and Cruz both have national aspirations that crated tension, and there was personal history with others.”
Cruz calls Abbott his “close friend and mentor,” which is more than he can say for most of the state’s mainstream Republicans, including Perry. The governor isn’t seeking re-election but may mount a second presidential bid, and his chief selling point will be job creation spurred by incentive funds he uses to lure top employers to Texas. But the first-term senator maintains that only the free market, not politicians, can promote economic growth.
Cruz helped lead last year’s partial government shutdown, prompting the Senate’s No. 2 Republican and fellow Texan John Cornyn to suggest that the GOP needs to govern rather than throw temper tantrums.
And, besides beating longtime Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in 2012, Cruz has also sniped publicly with tea party favorite state Sen. Dan Patrick, who’s favored to replace Dewhurst. They even yelled at each other when Patrick, a conservative talk-radio host in Houston, had Cruz on for the first — and last — time.
Abbott has appealed to both conservative activists and more traditional Republicans, but has a judicial temperament honed during six years on the state Supreme Court and 12 years as attorney general. He freely acknowledges Cruz has outshined him nationally.
“He obviously has gone on to achieve greatness not because I was his mentor but because he was a remarkable individual,” Abbott said. “He is incomparable in his intelligence, in his ability to articulate a position.”
Cruz left his post as solicitor general in 2008 and spent the next year campaigning for attorney general, raising more than $1 million when it appeared Abbott would seek higher office. But Abbott changed his mind — a decision that ultimately set Cruz’s sights on Washington.
“That day I suspended my campaign,” Cruz said. “There was no universe in which our political paths would have diverged.”