A freshman senator who has vaulted to the top of early presidential preference polls will be the keynote speaker at tonight’s Iowa GOP fundraising banquet in Des Moines.

Ted Cruz started courting Iowa Republicans even before Texans elected him to the U.S. Senate in November of 2012. He delivered an 18-minute speech to the Iowa delegates at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa.

“Let me take a moment to thank you for the role Iowa plays every four years in presidential politics because you don’t let someone come in on a fancy private jet, dump a whole bunch of money and just buy a presidential race,” Cruz said.

Cruz, who will be 44 years old on Election Day in 2016, seemed back in 2012 to already be forming an answer to critics who may argue he’s too inexperienced to be the party’s next presidential nominee.

“Republicans get in trouble when we start thinking about whose turn it is. That doesn’t have a good history of working out for us,” Cruz told Iowa delegates at the GOP’s 2012 national convention. “Elections are supposed to be about the people and I want to thank each of you for your role in making sure that’s the case every four years.”

Cruz will hunt pheasants in northwest Iowa on Saturday morning with Congressman Steve King, something presidential candidates Rick Perry and Rick Santorum did in 2011, then Cruz will speak at a King for Congress fundraiser in Le Mars. This is Cruz’s third visit to Iowa in 2013.

“You want to know why the American people are fed up with politicians in Washington?” Cruz asked a crowd at GOP headquarters this past July. “And let me be clear,” he said, “it’s politicians of both parties who have gotten us in this mess.”

By inspiring the showdown over ObamaCare and the subsequent shutdown of the federal government, Cruz has become a lightning rod within his own party.  Iowa GOP officials booked Cruz for tonight before Cruz staged his 21-hour speech-a-thon in the Senate in late September.

“I think that fight raised his profile,” says A.J. Spiker, the chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa who supported Ron Paul in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. “Since that filibuster, there has been a groundswell of support for Cruz.”

Others blame Cruz for further damaging the GOP’s “brand” with voters. Doug Gross, the Iowa GOP’s 2002 nominee for governor and a long-time behind-the-scenes strategist, considers the government shut-down a “debacle” and he is among those who will not attend tonight’s event.

“You don’t bring out here for your marquee spokesperson at a key fundraiser one week after the debacle the poster boy for that debacle,” Gross says. “Do we have a death wish?

University of Northern Iowa political science professor Justin Holmes says it will be interesting to see if Cruz has staying power.

“Whether this is sort of the start of something even bigger or whether this is sort of a ‘flash in the pan’ and he’ll sort of fizzle out over the next couple of years,” Holmes says.

According to Holmes, Cruz has mastered the “spectacle” of speechmaking, with a particular appeal to Tea Party activists within the GOP.

“He tends to use a fair number of buzz words and things like that to really connect to those audiences,” Holmes says, “but I’m not sure that he speaks particularly well to a broader audience, at least at this point.”

Iowa’s most popular Republican — Senator Chuck Grassley — suggests the “Tea Party” label isn’t a detriment to success on Iowa’s political stage.

“I was Tea Party before there was ever a Tea Party, just like Reagan,” Grassley says.

Republicans who want to join Grassley and Cruz in the U.S. Senate are embracing Cruz as well. Sam Clovis, one of a half-dozen GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate, makes this appeal to voters: “Place a conservative in the halls of the senate to stand next to senators like Mike Lee and Ted Cruz.”

Clovis along with Senate candidates Matt Whitaker and Joni Ernst signed the “Don’t Fund ObamaCare” petition Lee and Cruz posted on the internet.

Cruz is the main draw for tonight’s Reagan Dinner fundraiser for the Iowa GOP. Party officials say it’ll be a “sold out” crowd of six-hundred. The party’s 2010 Reagan Dinner had former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as its keynote speaker. The crowd that night was over 1500, the largest ever for the annual event.