Ted Cruz's favorite talking point: money

Story highlights

  • Ted Cruz frequently talks about his fund-raising skills on the campaign trail
  • Cruz: "We have not seen a true grass-roots movement conservative with serious fund-raising ability since 1980"

Pierson, Iowa (CNN)Ted Cruz has raised a lot of money -- and he wants you to know it.

Standing in front of hay bales and before Iowans picnicking in lawn chairs, the presidential candidate recently ended 25 minutes of remarks here the same way he usually does.
"With one week to go in our first fund-raising quarter, we set a goal that we wanted to raise $1 million in a week. Now, I thought that was a pretty audacious goal," Cruz said, recalling the opening days of his campaign. "Well, I'm sorry to tell you we failed in that goal. We didn't raise a million dollars in a week. We raised a million dollars in one day."
    The crowd, like an audience watching a gymnast land a tough stunt, let out a collective "woah." But he wasn't finished.
    "By the third day, we'd raised $2 million. And by the end of the week, we'd raised over $4.3 million," Cruz rattled off. "To put that into context, $4.3 million is more than any Republican candidate has raised in the opening week in modern history. It's double what Mitt Romney raised in 2012. It's much more than double what John McCain raised in 2008."
    On the stump, insurgent candidates like Cruz are eagerly pointing to their fund-raising prowess to show they are just as viable as those in the establishment. Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders, who said Thursday he raised $15 million despite despising the money game, was glad to share aloud how he had fund-raised differently than his rivals had. And Cruz has been touting his totals ever since he announced, rarely missing a chance before grass-roots conservatives or the media to chat dollars and cents.
    Expect more boasting about fund-raising this week as more candidates reveal how much money they collected during the second quarter.
    It is a message that some here in Iowa described as crass and inappropriate, like talking about religion at a dinner party. Yet with a Republican field of more than a dozen candidates, others said it helps them know that a candidate could actually win and is worth supporting in the caucuses next year.
    That's especially true for Cruz, who is arguably doing better in fund-raising than he is doing in early polling. The Cruz campaign announced Sunday it had raised $14.3 million in the first and second quarters, and the super PAC supporting him says it has raised nearly another $40 million to back him independently.
    Altogether, the campaign believes it could finish in second place in the fund-raising war's first battle, trailing only juggernaut Jeb Bush. And the campaign is summoning its top donors and bundlers to a ritzy summit this weekend in Colorado Springs to take its money-chasing operation to the next level.
    Cruz sees the money as distinguishing him from the flash-in-the-pan conservatives of the past.
    "Between the campaign fund-raising and the super PAC fund-raising, we have over $40 million cash in the bank," Cruz told reporters in Sheldon, Iowa, when asked by CNN about his emphasis on the hauls. "We have not seen a true grass-roots movement conservative with serious fund-raising ability since 1980."
    Cruz relies on reports from senior advisers while traveling the country and does not micromanage his Houston-based operation. Yet the former George W. Bush campaign aide nevertheless rattles off an extensively developed theory -- the "bracketology" -- of why he could win the GOP primary. He openly ponders in interviews how Jeb Bush could earn the nomination given his struggles in early states and the history of the Republican Party.
    And on the trail here in Iowa this past weekend, Cruz returned to lauding his money game, at one point ending his town hall in Sheldon by answering a question about how to get young people more involved in politics by noting his fund-raising success -- "a good note to wrap up on," he said.
    Not all Iowans agreed those were the ideal parting words.
    "Most of us don't even care how much money they've raised," said Kelly O'Brien, the longtime county chairwoman of O'Brien County Republican Party, who had just heard Cruz speak. "I don't think that's going to affect whether somebody votes for them or not."
    Other GOP voters interviewed across the state said they did not find Cruz's money message distasteful, but rather a signal that Cruz is a viable candidate to take seriously.
    "If you're going to go the whole show, it takes big numbers to make it work," said Tom Oswald, an Iowa farm leader who has not yet committed to a candidate. "I don't think it's icky at all -- in fact, it encourages those who say, 'You know, I can do that. I don't have to give a thousand bucks.'"