After a particularly well-received appearance at a conservative event in Ames, Iowa over the weekend, there seems little doubt that Cruz, who has been in the U.S. Senate all of eight months, is zooming toward the front of the GOP pack in the nation’s first-voting state.

The gathering, sponsored by the social conservative organization Family Leader, featured appearances by Rick Santorum, winner of the 2012 Republican caucuses, and Cruz, along with billionaire gadfly Donald Trump. From all accounts, Santorum was a popular speaker; the social conservative crowd appreciated not only his positions but the enormous effort he has made to get to know the state of Iowa and its conservative residents.

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