SAN DIEGO -- Ten years ago, I sat at dinner with a friend in Washington -- an Ivy League-educated lawyer in his early 30s. We were with our wives. Just two childless couples enjoying a carefree evening before the days when going to dinner meant inquiring whether a restaurant is "kid friendly."
A Hispanic Republican from Houston who worked on the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000 and then recruited lawyers to oversee the Florida recount, my friend had also worked at the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. These were steppingstones.
The lawyer was Ted Cruz, who is now the first Hispanic U.S. senator in Texas history. In a show of respect and an acknowledgement of what this 42-year-old could do to help the GOP at a time when Hispanics are a sought-after group of voters, Cruz was named vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- just eight days after being elected.
He is already being discussed as a possible presidential candidate in 2016, despite the fact that he was born in Canada where his father, Rafael, went to work after immigrating to the United States from Cuba. Constitutional experts say that Cruz could make the case that he qualifies as "a natural-born citizen of the United States" because his mother was a U.S. citizen.
Welcome to Cruzmania.
If Republicans are ever going to win a greater share of the Hispanic vote despite their insensitive rhetoric on immigration, rock stars like Cruz cannot be allowed to fail. And, if Democrats are going to keep their hold on Hispanics, these up-and-comers cannot be allowed to succeed.
Cruz is already a target for Democrats, for three reasons.
First, as the son of an immigrant, Cruz has a great story, and Americans have a soft spot for those.
Next, he forces Democrats to work harder to keep Hispanics in their column when they prefer to have them in their back pockets.
Finally, he punches hard and doesn't back up. He seems to have been gearing up to brawl with Democrats his whole life.
Copyright 2013 Washington Post Writers Group