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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

Members of Congress are returning to our nation's capital this weekend, getting ready to get back to work tomorrow after a weeklong Memorial Day recess. Many, if not most politicians work hard to create distance between themselves and the Washington political establishment. And that can pay off with their constituents. That's what Republican Senator Ted Cruz is betting. Some call the Texas Tea Party favorite the new voice of the GOP. He was the only speaker at a big fundraiser thrown by the New York Republican Party this past week.

But Cruz's reception at the event in Manhattan was decidedly mixed, as NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: It was not exactly a welcoming committee that awaited Texas Senator Ted Cruz outside the GOP fundraiser at the Grand New York Hyatt.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How many dead?

CROWD: Go home, Ted.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How many dead?

CROWD: Go home, Ted.

WELNA: Several dozen advocates of tougher gun laws chanted and waved signs, scolding Cruz for his vote blocking a bipartisan measure expanding background checks for gun buyers.

Leah Gunn Barrett is executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.

LEAH GUNN BARRETT: I think it's really ridiculous, all these people coming to New York to raise money when their voting records are really diametrically opposed to what New Yorkers want and what the American people want when it comes to gun safety.

WELNA: Others protested Cruz's efforts to block the pathway to citizenship, promised to millions of immigrants in the Senate's bipartisan immigration bill.

Ramiro Luna, is a college student in Dallas from Mexico, whose family entered the U.S. illegally when he was a child.

RAMIRO LUNA: I flew in from Texas yesterday just to come and protest against Ted Cruz. We're not afraid of him. We're going to chase him wherever he goes and let him know that the immigrant community exists and that we have a voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)

WELNA: Meanwhile, in a windowless hotel ballroom, more than 600 New York Republicans were downing drinks and writing checks to their struggling party which has no statewide office holders. A lawyer named Jim Castro Blanco said he was happy to have Cruz, the Canadian born son of a Cuban immigrant, headlining the fundraiser.

JIM CASTRO BLANCO: He's been a very, very articulate and powerful speaker for the Republican Party. I think he is a comer. I think that as a Latino, it's very heartening for me to see somebody out of Texas come to New York and really be the voice of the conservative Republicans in this state.

WELNA: Not all those Republicans were happy though, about this Tea Party hard liner who voted against federal emergency aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Congressmen Peter King and Michael Grimm boycotted the fundraiser. The New York Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, a son-in-law of Richard Nixon, was making no apologies.

ED COX: Ted Cruz is very smart, very able and he's got political guts.

WELNA: Later, taking the stage in black cowboy boots, Cruz showed he could also be a crowd pleaser.

SENATOR TED CRUZ: It is great to be with so many friends here in New York City.

WELNA: Pacing the stage like a revival preacher and speaking without notes, Cruz made no mention of guns, the Sandy aid or the immigration bill. Instead, he performed a political postmortem.

CRUZ: I'm going to suggest the last election can be explained in two words: 47 percent.

WELNA: Those words, uttered by Mitt Romney, Cruz said created the wrong narrative. Much better, he said, was Romney's line: You built that.

CRUZ: And yet, as good as it was, it could've been a lot better. Because to whom was it addressed? It was addressed to the 53 percent. It was addressed to the people who'd already built their businesses. How much better would it have been if Romney had campaigned and said: You can build that?

(APPLAUSE)

WELNA: It's what Cruz called opportunity conservatism, reaching out to low income voters with a free market message. And it's one being brought, he added, by a new kind of Republican.

CRUZ: You know, if you sit back and you list who are the brightest stars in the Republican Party, who are the most effective advocates for free market principles, you'd come up with names like Marco Rubio, like Mike Lee, like Rand Paul, like Pat Toomey, like Scott Walker.

WELNA: And, someone yelled out, Ted Cruz. Cruz just nodded and chuckled. Michigan Republican Party leader Saul Anuzis was at the New York fundraiser.

SAUL ANUZIS: We just had him in Michigan two weeks ago and had a huge success with Cruz there. So I think people are looking for the new voice of the Republican Party, and Ted Cruz is obviously offering one of those alternative voices.

WELNA: It's a voice being heard in more and more places, and its fueling speculation about a Cruz presidential bid in 2016, a move Cruz is not ruling out.

David Welna, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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