After a report in the conservative National Review suggested that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is eyeing a run at the presidency in 2016, the freshman lawmaker took to Facebook on Wednesday to tamp down speculation and assure his constituents that his attention remains firmly focused on his day job.
"In my short tenure, my focus has been - and will remain - on two things: fighting for conservative principles in the Senate, and working to elect strong conservatives to win a majority in the Senate in 2014," Cruz wrote in a post on his Facebook page. "It is a continued source of amazement that the simple fact that I am working hard with like-minded Senators to keep my promise is seen as newsworthy and cause for wild speculation."
But despite his public humility, behind the scenes, Cruz's maneuvering may reflect a different story entirely about his ambitions in 2016 and beyond.
"Friends and confidants" of Cruz, a Cuban-American conservative who was elected in 2012 after defeating the handpicked primary candidate of the Texas GOP establishment, told the National Review that Cruz has been quietly gauging support for a 2016 bid, even talking through the idea with his peers in the legal community.
"There's not a lot of hesitation there," one Cruz donor told National Review. "He's fearless."
"Ted won't be opening an Iowa office anytime soon, but he's listening," added a longtime Cruz associate. "This is all in the early stages; nothing is official. It's just building on its own."
By some measures, the 42 year-old Cruz would be a formidable presence on the campaign trail if he decides to take the plunge: A graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School who has argued cases before the Supreme Court, Cruz is a tea party darling, considered among the most conservative members of the freshman class. He's seized publicity on a number of high-profile conservative causes since arriving on Capitol Hill, joining in a threat to filibuster gun control legislation and grilling administration officials during committee hearings regarding the administration's position on targeted drone strikes on U.S. citizens.
Those public stands have burnished his reputation with the base, which could conceivably jumpstart any grassroots fundraising operation for a presidential run. Add that to his already cozy relationship with elements of the GOP donor class, and you'd have the underpinnings of a well-financed national bid.
But not everyone is as enthused about a potential Cruz bid as are many of his longtime associates. Conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin recently chastised Cruz for publicly mocking the ideological purity of some of his Republican colleagues in the Senate.
"Cruz's actions suggest an immaturity and lack of sophistication about conservative governance. He might want to apologize to his colleagues for betraying their confidence," Rubin wrote. "He's doing nothing to suggest he's a man of stature and a future leader in the party."
Rubin's column - entitled "Don't be a jerk, Sen. Cruz" - encapsulated what some in the GOP are saying about Cruz: that he needs to take care not to put the cart before the horse. Rise too fast or throw too many sharp elbows, some warn, and he risks alienating the party faithful whose support he'll need to claim the nomination.
"If he rubs enough Republicans the wrong way, he may not be able to get what he wants done," veteran Republican strategist Ron Bonjean told CBSNews.com. "His leadership style could backfire over time if he crosses enough Republicans, including conservatives."
Staunch conservatives like the people who elected him in Texas "appreciate his ability to come to Washington and shake up the Senate," Bonjean said, but added that there may be "more establishment Republicans who don't like his style of expressing himself and would rather see him be a workhorse rather than a showhorse."
There's also the problem of Cruz's fellow Republican freshman senators - some of whom are clearly mulling presidential bids of their own and could be none too eager to cede the mantle of grassroots favorite to the Texas Republican.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., another Cuban-American tea party favorite who defeated an establishment Republican on his way to Washington in 2010, already sits at or near the top of many early polls of 2016 GOP contenders. Rubio, who has not shed much light on his thinking about 2016, has distinguished himself from Cruz by becoming a bridge-builder rather than a bomb-thrower, working with a bipartisan gang of senators on a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's immigration system, among other endeavors.
And Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who won the straw poll of the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference at which Cruz was the keynote speaker, has carved out a similar role as a conservative warrior in the upper chamber, taking the Obama administration to task on gun control, drone strikes, and other policies. CBSNews.com reported in March that Paul has already had several meetings about 2016 with his advisers.
Despite these and other complications, Cruz is not sitting still. This week, he'll travel to South Carolina (conspicuously the third-in-the-nation primary state) this week to keynote the state Republican party's annual Silver Elephant Dinner.