WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Ted Cruz's rivals like to say he doesn't have any friends in Washington. That's not true.
Despite a distinct lack of support from Senate colleagues — not one single endorsement — the Republican presidential candidate and freshman Texas senator has a small but loyal group of supporters in the House who are flying to rallies, meeting with voters and trying to convince the electorate that he's not such a bad guy.
Republican Rep. Mark Meadows says he's traveled to Cruz events "to really tell the personal side of Ted Cruz that not many people know." His North Carolina district shares a media market and a border with South Carolina, which will hold its closely contested GOP primary on Saturday.
"On issue after issue, Cruz has told the truth and done what he said he was going to do," Meadows said when he endorsed Cruz last month. "It may not make him a lot of friends in Washington, but it is exactly what the American people expect of their leaders."
Meadows is one of about 20 House Republicans who are campaigning for Cruz around the country. Iowa Rep. Steve King, a fierce opponent of immigration, stood by Cruz's side when he gave his victory speech after winning the state's caucuses two weeks ago. South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan is appearing with Cruz in at least four South Carolina cities this week.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas endorsed Cruz on Tuesday, saying he's "not one of those 'campaign conservatives' who are all talk — he is a proven, principled conservative."
Many say it doesn't matter that Cruz has a reputation for getting on the wrong side of some of his GOP Senate colleagues, such as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom Cruz accused of lying last year, or Arizona Sen. John McCain. McCain has sparred with Cruz a number of times and last month said questions about Cruz's eligibility due to his Canadian birth should be explored, keeping the issue alive after Cruz's foe Donald Trump raised concerns.
His congressional supporters say Cruz isn't always well loved because he's doing his job.
In 2013, the Texas senator and his House allies contributed to the partial 16-day government shutdown as they tried to starve President Barack Obama's health care overhaul of money, a move several of Cruz's GOP colleagues considered ill-conceived and futile.
"It rubs people the wrong way because ultimately what Ted is trying to do is reduce the influence of outside groups and force members to make tough decisions," said Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, who also endorsed Cruz last month and is serving as his Colorado campaign chairman. "I think that people who don't like him now as a colleague will respect him and be willing to work with him as president."
The supporters say they aren't worried that he wouldn't get along with lawmakers if elected president. They say they aren't trying to rally support in the Capitol, but with voters.
"Senators and congressmen know enough to make their own decisions," says Rep. Mo Brooks, a Cruz supporter from Alabama.
Cruz has always had a closer relationship with members of the House, where the tea party-inspired Freedom Caucus has made similar moves to block GOP leadership. Freedom Caucus member Randy Weber of Texas said "there has been some discussion" in the caucus about making an endorsement, though at this point members are making their own decisions.
Some, like Meadows, have introduced House versions of Cruz's Senate bills. Meadows and Duncan attended the Republican debate in South Carolina Saturday and spoke to reporters afterward as surrogates for Cruz. King live-tweeted the debate, criticizing Cruz's opponents and writing that the Texas senator landed "final blows" at the end.
Though he doesn't have any Senate endorsements — rival GOP presidential contender Marco Rubio has some half dozen — Cruz does have a handful of friends there. When he made a rare appearance to vote on a North Korea sanctions bill last week, a few senators on the floor warmly greeted him. Others pointedly ignored him.
Perhaps Cruz's closest friend in the Senate is Utah Sen. Mike Lee, whom he met before he was elected. Lee came to the Senate floor to block several nominees on Cruz's behalf earlier this month. He hasn't endorsed the Texas senator in the presidential race, saying he's also close friends with Rubio, but said he would consider an endorsement, "if this became about one of them."
Another fan, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, has called Cruz "a very effective campaigner" though he hasn't endorsed yet.