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Like Other GOP Senators, Gardner Reluctant To Commit To Cruz

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Ted Cruz's growing success with voters isn't rubbing off on his fellow GOP senators, who remain decidedly cool to his presidential candidacy.

The Texas Republican is notorious for alienating his colleagues with tactics that have included pushing a fruitless government shutdown in 2013 and accusing the Senate majority leader of lying.

Ted Cruz
Ted Cruz (credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Lawmakers are now paying it back by refusing to get on board with Cruz's White House campaign even as he emerges as the likeliest alternative to businessman Donald Trump following a commanding victory Tuesday in Wisconsin.

"I just haven't heard any talk about it," responded Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, when asked whether Republican colleagues would be gravitating toward Cruz.

"I will tell you that wasn't the chatter," said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., after emerging from a private GOP lunch.

"I don't see any rush to judgment," added Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, a four-term lawmaker.

Of Cruz's frosty relations with his colleagues, Roberts said: "I think that's obvious. That's just the way it is. But in the end result I think all of us would like to support the nominee and do the best we can."

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has made a half-hearted endorsement of Cruz, predicted that more establishment support would swing behind the Cruz.

Graham, a short-lived presidential candidate himself, tried to make the case that while the erratic Trump would destroy the GOP for generations to come by turning off women and minorities, Cruz is at least a reliable Republican with a steady foreign policy outlook who shares his colleagues' views on most issues.

"I think some of Ted's tactics have hurt the party but the overall vision is far more common," Graham said.

Although Graham also contends Cruz could be electable, his argument for backing Cruz is being called by some pundits the "Lose With Cruz" movement.

And it's falling on deaf ears with some colleagues.

"Not yet," said GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, when asked if he would be backing Cruz. "I'm no fan of Donald Trump, I think I've said that before," Flake added. "But this isn't over. (Ohio Gov.) John Kasich is still in the race, no candidate is likely to have the necessary votes and so I wouldn't discount Kasich or something else happening."

Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, one of the more vulnerable incumbents in November, said of Cruz's chances of wooing fellow Republican senators: "I would say a slow process with a lot of romance and a lot of discussion would be necessary." Kirk then demurred on whether he himself would get there.

"I've been strictly staying out of the presidential because it's just a minefield for me," he said.

Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican who previously supported Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in the race, told reporters that "Donald Trump is still not going to be the nominee" and "I don't see a path for Kasich," who lagged Cruz and Trump in Wisconsin. Talk of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., or another outsider scooping up the nomination in a convention fight? "I think that's nonsense," Gardner said.

Nonetheless, he was reluctant to commit to Cruz.

"Any nominee is going to have to earn my support," Gardner said.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who has tangled with Cruz over his failed efforts to withhold federal dollars from the president's health care law and Planned Parenthood, sidestepped when asked if she's coming around to the idea that Cruz will be the nominee.

"I'm coming around to more like, 'It looks like it will be a very interesting convention,' " said Ayotte, who's facing a tough re-election fight.

Cruz has lumped in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky with other GOP leaders as part of the "Washington cartel." Campaigning in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire Cruz would regularly declare: "If you see a candidate Washington embraces, run and hide."

But lately that line has disappeared. Jason Miller, Cruz's director of communications, told reporters this week, "We welcome all folks to come on board."

In New York City on Wednesday, Cruz claimed that his Wisconsin victory would be a "turning point" that showed Republicans were coming together to stand united. The election, he said, "is about unity."

By ERICA WERNER and ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press ... Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, and Michael Balsamo in New York contributed to this report.

(© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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