Tea Party calls Ted Cruz a hero; some others see disaster


* Senator Ted Cruz cheered at conservative gathering

* Some strategists call effort to kill Obamacare foolish

By Tim Reid

WASHINGTON, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Establishment Republicans inCongress such as John McCain are openly scornful of him. SomeRepublican strategists say his crusade to destroy PresidentBarack Obama's healthcare law has been a political disaster.

But at a gathering of conservatives and Tea Party faithfulin Washington on Friday, Republican Senator Ted Cruz wasunapologetic, defiant and received like a conquering hero.

As Republican leaders in Congress have abandoned a strategyto use a government shutdown and threat of default to dismantleObama's healthcare overhaul - with polls showing it unpopularwith voters - one thing was clear at the gathering ofconservative activists: they believe the battle to killObamacare has only just begun.

Cruz, a freshman Texas lawmaker who made a 21-hour speechlast month on the Senate floor decrying Obama's health law, hasbecome the face of conservative opposition to the legislation.

To multiple standing ovations and cries of "tyranny" everytime he mentioned Obama's name, Cruz told a big crowd ofconservative Republicans at the Values Voter Summit that he knewexactly what he was doing, and battle had only just been joined.

America, he said, was just two years away from oblivionunless there was radical change. And at the heart of what wasneeded, he said, was "to stop that train wreck, that disaster,that nightmare that is Obamacare."

Cruz was frequently greeted with whoops of support andprolonged applause. He was also met with hecklers, whom hecalled "President Obama's paid political operatives." They wereshouted down and removed.

Cruz said that after he spoke, he was going with fellowRepublican senators to meet Obama in the White House.

"If I am not seen again please send a search and rescueteam," Cruz said.

Speaking before Cruz was fellow conservative RepublicanSenator Mike Lee from Utah, who has partnered Cruz in the fightto dismantle the healthcare law.

"We make no apologies," Lee declared over the failed fightto block Obamacare. "We must stop it, we must defeat it, and wecannot accept it." Lee, too, was given a standing ovation.

Michelle Wiegand, 43, attending the conference with hertwo-year-old son Declan, said of Cruz and Lee's efforts to endObamacare: "Even if nothing comes of it, they showed greatpolitical courage. That is rare in Washington. This is a law notsupported by the majority of the American public."

With the Republican leadership now negotiating with Obama ona deal to lift the debt ceiling and reopen the government, someRepublican strategists said Cruz's strategy had been a mistakeall along.

"His battle is over," said Charlie Black, a veteran partystrategist. "It was a bad idea. He was trying to do somethingthat was impossible. There is a Democratic president and aDemocratic Senate. He's new to Washington. Maybe he didn't knowwhat was possible."

Senator McCain from Arizona, a former presidentialcandidate, and Representative Peter King from New York have beentwo of the most vocal opponents of Cruz's tactics, with McCaincalling Cruz and his allies "wacko birds."

Cruz has also taken a hit in the polls. A Gallup pollreleased on Thursday found that he has gained significant namerecognition, but the percentage of Americans with an unfavorableview of him has jumped to 36 percent from 18 percent in June.

Ford O'Connell, a Republican political adviser, saidopposition to the healthcare law was justified, but Cruz'stactics were "completely wrong."

"Cruz has done a good job of bringing this to the attentionof the American people - but the government shutdown hascompletely obstructed his message," Ford said.

"The key to successful political negotiating is to pull theright lever at the right time. Unfortunately for the Republicanparty, the Tea Party caucus is pulling the right lever at thewrong time."

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