On Thursday night, the last direct flight from Washington, D.C., to Iowa’s capital was delayed. Most of the weary travelers idled by the gate. But two passengers, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, left to get dinner. Together, they stumbled upon a sushi bar. They took seats, and for about 30 minutes, they talked over fish and rice.
In separate interviews, both senators declined to discuss the content of their conversation, but they assured me it was amicable. “We don’t arm wrestle, or anything like that,” Paul says. Cruz concurs: “We’re good friends.”
Beneath the chumminess, however, are hints of a rivalry that could shape the 2016 Republican presidential race. Even at this early stage, the freshmen are competing hard for the hearts of their party’s right flank. The contest is unofficial and unspoken, but strategists for both men worry about being outpaced.