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DES MOINES, Iowa – Sen. Ted Cruz rolled Friday into Iowa, the always pivotal state in presidential politics, where Republican activists sized him up in the wake of his headline-grabbing role in the Washington standoff over health care that shut down the government.

Fired-up activists packed the downtown Iowa Events Center, 600 strong and loud, to celebrate the legacy of iconic hero Ronald Reagan and consider whether Cruz, the renegade senator from Texas, could become a worthy apostle.

This much was clear: No matter how much the party’s establishment class criticizes Cruz, no matter how much of an outlier he has become in the U.S. Senate, Republicans here in the heartland are intrigued.

“He’s a conservative fighter and he’s really speaking for a lot of little guys whose voices haven’t been heard,” said Iowa Republican chairman A.J. Spiker.

Still, many wanted to hear more before embracing him. “I want to like the guy, but I’m still trying to be sold,” said Ryan Frederick, an Orient, Iowa, real estate appraiser.

Cruz has been focusing on the Affordable Care Act, which like most Republicans he regards as intrusive, expensive and confusing.

“Due to Obamacare, Americans are losing their health insurance, they are seeing their premiums increase, and many are being forced into part-time work,” he said in a statement Friday before the dinner. “That won’t change with more salesmanship, a better website or a temporary delay. We must focus our immediate efforts on bringing relief to working people hurt by Obamacare by staying true to health care’s first principle: first do no harm.”

Like its state counterparts around the country, the Iowa Republican Party has been split between those demanding ideological purity and brinkmanship and those urging a more pragmatic, less confrontational approach. Cruz and his allies want to keep fighting the health care law, even if means being blamed for the 16-day federal government shutdown. Others see the battle as one that can’t be won now, as long as Democrats run the Senate.

If he did run for the Republican presidential nomination, Cruz likely would face a formidable lineup of potential challengers.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky appeals to this same take-no-prisoners conservative crowd, and he starts with a strong base of support left behind by his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who ran a respectable third in the 2012 caucus.

Others are also in the mix. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hardly appeals to the Cruz wing, but in a multicandidate field, his small base of moderates could be enough to win.

Iowa will see them all. Over the next three weeks, prominent Republicans scheduled to visit include 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and former Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.