DES MOINES — The presidential aspirations of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz got a boost Friday when the firebrand received a warm reception at an Iowa Republican Party dinner.
About 600 people stood and applauded for about three minutes as Cruz took the stage as the keynote speaker at the party's Ronald Reagan Dinner.
They applauded again when he indicated he had no regrets over his high-profile — but failed effort — to derail President Barack Obama's signature health care law.
"This fight was worth it," Cruz said.
The Texan said he may not have won, but he and other lawmakers who oppose the law got people talking.
He said the debate helped "energize" and build a "grassroots army" across America that would continue the fight against the law.
"We elevated the national debate over what a disaster, what a train wreck, how much Obamacare is hurting Americans all over the nation," Cruz said.
As for what went wrong with his strategy, he was quick to lay the blame at the feet of fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate who did not back his plan.
"Had we stood together, I'm convinced the outcome of this fight would be very, very different," Cruz said.
This was Cruz's third visit to Iowa this year, and the first since the end of the 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government, during which Cruz tried to defund the health care law by tying it to a budget bill.
Cruz, 42, has quickly risen to national prominence since he won his Senate seat last year.
The freshman is a favorite among the Tea Party and libertarian wing of the GOP, and for his take-no-prisoners-style in Washington.
Others believe Cruz is dragging the party too far to the right.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona labeled Cruz a "wacko bird" after he supported Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster against incoming CIA Director John Brennan over drone policy.
Cruz is clearly weighing a potential presidential bid. If he runs, Iowa and its first-in- the-nation caucuses could play a pivotal role.
Although he got an enthusiastic reception Friday, it's clear that not all Iowans are sold on Cruz as presidential material.
Doug Gross, who ran for the GOP governor nomination in 2002, questioned the wisdom of the Iowa Republican Party choosing Cruz as the keynote speaker.
In an interview with Radio Iowa, Gross wondered if the state party had a "death wish.''
"You don't bring out here for your marquee spokesperson, at a key fundraiser one week after the debacle, the poster boy for that debacle," Gross told Radio Iowa. "Do we have a death wish?"
Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University, said it was too early to say whether the Iowa GOP was divided between those who supported Cruz's tactics and those who did not. But, he said, it was apparent there is tension.
"There is a rift. But will it develop into a split? We don't know yet," he said.
Goldford characterized the divide as coming down to a debate over tactics. Both Tea Party supporters and establishment Republicans opposed the health-care law, but they disagreed with a strategy that some said would never work.
"The business-oriented, centrist conservatives knew the shutdown wasn't going to work," Goldford said.
Among his supporters, Cruz was hailed as a man of principle. Many said they were disappointed in the criticism other Republicans have leveled at Cruz.
"Ted Cruz is listening to the people," said Jon Gruber, a small-business owner from Altoona who attended the dinner at the Iowa Event Center in downtown Des Moines.
Denise Bubeck said Cruz had a strategy that may have worked if Republicans in the Senate had united behind the cause. "His own Republican Party set him up for failure," Bubeck said.
Gov. Terry Branstad downplayed the so-called divide within the party, despite the fact that Branstad had expressed impatience with the federal shutdown.
Branstad said the "liberal media" and Democrats were behind all the talk about a divided Republican Party.
"We need to be united as a party. And we need to get our message across to the people of this great country," Branstad said to lukewarm applause.
One key Republican from western Iowa was making it clear he stood firmly behind Cruz.
U.S. Rep. Steve King said he planned to take Cruz pheasant hunting today in northwest Iowa.
In 2011, King also took Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum hunting. Both ran for president.