Democrats’ Biggest 2014 Weapon: Ted Cruz

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J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Senator Ted Cruz emerges from the Senate Chamber after his overnight crusade railing against the nation's new health care law at the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 25, 2013.

Democratic strategists plan to “aggressively” tie Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to all Republicans next year in an attempt to scare away moderate voters, party officials say.

“Die-hard Republicans will consider him their best surrogate, and we consider him our best surrogate too,” says Democratic National Committee spokesman Mike Czin. “Wherever he goes now, I think he’s a political liability for all Republicans.”

The effort takes a page out of the time-honored playbook of guilt by association, which Republicans so ably deployed in 2010 by using Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi to hurt Democratic congressional candidates across the country. Their aim is force Republicans to either embrace the Republican senator to shore up their conservative flank or shun him in order to appeal to moderates, either way alienating a vital swath of the electorate.

So far, Republicans are bearing the brunt of the shutdown blame, and are more likely to be criticized for their handling of the fiscal crises among critical independent voters, an ABC/Washington Post poll found Monday. Moderate Republican operatives believe that Cruz will damage their brand with those independent voters, costing them a shot a retaking the Senate that just months ago seemed to be well within reach. “Reid secret weapon,” Republican consultant Mike Murphy tweeted Sunday. “Ted Cruz starting wave of Salem Witch Trials inside GOP. Huge gift to Dem efforts to hold Senate control in #2014.”

(VIDEO: Ted Cruz Humorously Deals With Speech)

Intra-party GOP politics is aiding the effort, as support for Cruz and his tactics has become a litmus test in more than one Republican primary. Unlike Democrats who have quickly coalesced behind candidates, across the competitive states nearly every Republican race features a primary, with candidates from across the ideological spectrum. Not even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is facing a challenge from Republican businessman Matt Bevin, is immune.

“Where was Mitch McConnell while Ted Cruz was standing and fighting?” Bevin asked in a blog post blasting the minority leader on the conservative website RedState. “Well, he was sleeping. Literally. And when he wasn’t sleeping, he was whipping his fellow Republicans to vote against Sen. Cruz’s effort.”

Cruz, who is considering a 2016 presidential run and will undoubtedly benefit in a presidential primary from his ultra-conservative positions, laughed off the suggestion that he has hurt the Republican Party’s political fortunes. “Not remotely,” said with a chuckle Sunday on CNN State of the Union. “The fact that you’re seeing those attacks I think is indicative of the fact that we’re winning the argument.”

Republican strategists, meanwhile, hope their traditional advantage on fiscal issues to hold in 2014 despite the current crises. “Thirteen months is a long time in politics,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring. “And I don’t know of a single case in history where pointing to another Senator or candidate has proven effective for a candidate,” he added.

(MORE: How Ted Cruz Wins By Losing)

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee first identified Cruz as a convenient bludgeon against Republican candidates nine months ago when they coined the now-ubiquitous term “Cruz control” to describe his increasing rightward influence over congressional Republicans.

“Every Republican candidate has in some capacity sworn their allegiance to Ted Cruz,” said DSCC deputy executive director Matt Canter. In particular, Democrats believe Cruz and the shutdown have kept races in red states Montana and West Virginia competitive, with outsider Democrats running against GOP members of Congress.

Cruz is already being seen as a liability by some Republicans. Conservative Ken Cuccinelli, who is trailing in the race to be the next governor of Virginia, worked to distance himself from Cruz over the weekend as they spoke at the same fundraiser. Democrats spent the week blasting Cuccinelli for associating himself with the controversial Republican with press releases, speeches, and radio ads.

At the event, CNN reported that a Cuccinelli aide told reporters that their candidate urged Cruz to find a solution to the shutdown, and Cuccinelli didn’t mention Cruz once in his remarks. The reason is clear: according to a POLITICO poll, Cruz is viewed unfavorably by 45 percent of Virginia voters while just 26 percent view him favorably.

MORE: Shutdown Highlights Basic Fact: Most of Government is ‘Non-Essential’

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referenced Canter as communications director of the DSCC. He is in fact the deputy executive director.