Texas Senator Ted Cruz is in the midst of his third trip to Iowa this year, but his first since leading the charge to “defund ObamaCare” that led to the 16-day federal government shutdown. At a party fundraiser tonight in Des Moines, Cruz told a crowd of 600 Republicans “the fight is worth it.”

“I’m convinced we’re facing a new paradigm in politics. It is a paradigm that is the rise of the grassroots,” Cruz said. “I’ve got to tell you, it has official Washington absolutely terrified.”

Cruz argued the path to GOP victories in 2014 and beyond will be stitching back together the coalition that elected Ronald Reagan president in 1980 and he said the kind of “grassroots” activists the party needs had been “energized” by the crusade he led.

“And for everyone who talks about wanting to win elections in 2014 — particularly in an off-year, non-presidential year — nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing matters more than an energized and active and vocal grassroots America,” Cruz said, to applause. “That’s how you win elections.”

According to Cruz, “official Washington scoffed” at the idea immigration reform and new gun restrictions could be stalled in congress this past year and Cruz said eventually ObamaCare would fall to the “power of the grassroots” as well.

“But listen, none of us thought taking on the Washington establishment was going to be easy,” Cruz said. “None of us thought this was going to be a simple path. We all understood it was going to be an ongoing effort and right now I am more encouraged than ever.”

AUDIO of Cruz’s 44-minute speech

Cruz’s unexpected victory over the lieutenant governor of Texas in a 2012 Republican Primary has sparked a remaking of the Texas GOP in his image. Tonight, Iowa Republicans like Steve McCoy of Indianola said Cruz should be the party’s presidential nominee in 2016.

“Ted Cruz is a statesman,” McCoy said. “What’s a statesman? That’s a person who can tell you to go to hell and you think it’s an invitation.”

Jefferson, Iowa, native Jay Thompson, a former Army soldier who will graduate from the Kennedy School at Harvard in May with plans to move back to Iowa, was also in tonight’s crowd.

“I know he rose up with Bush’s camp in Texas, so that makes me a little hesitant to back Ted Cruz,” Thompson says. “But I’d prefer Rand Paul getting the bid in 2016, but (Cruz) would be my number two.”

Cruz worked on George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign. Cruz is to be in northwest Iowa early Saturday morning, hunting pheasants with about two dozen people, including Congressman Steve King. Over the noon-hour Cruz will speak at a King for Congress fundraiser in Le Mars.

The Libertarians who are currently leading the Iowa GOP used the time before Cruz spoke at tonight’s fundraiser to strike back at critics. A.J. Spiker, who has been the chairman of the Republican Party of  Iowa since early 2012, attacked the “permanent political class” for having as their chief goals “money and influence.”

“We’re often told by the political establishment that we shouldn’t take stances on issues because it might hurt in an election a year or two, four years down the road,” Spiker said. “We’re told that we should water down our message to try to win elections and then we wonder why candidates with a watered-down message lose those elections.”

David Fischer, the co-chair of the Republican Party of Iowa, said the party’s “old guard” doesn’t approve by “new conservatives leaders” like Cruz.

“Some Republicans have even gone so far as to call them names,” Fischer said. “Well, I have a name for these principled new leaders, too. I call them the future.”

AUDIO of speeches from Fischer and Spiker

Governor Terry Branstad, who also spoke at the event, laid the blame on the “D.C. media” for “attempting to divide” and “demonize” the GOP. Branstad  urged Republicans to follow Ronald Reagan’s “11th commandment” — not to speak ill of other Republicans.

AUDIO of Branstad’s remarks, 10:00

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley focused his fire on President Obama over the recent government shutdown, accusing Obama of being a “sadist” who has “inflicted pain” on the country.

AUDIO of Grassley’s remarks, 11:00