Republicans quietly seeking a candidate to challenge Senator Ted Cruz in 2018: report
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

As speculation simmers about his political future, Ted Cruz is hunkering down in his home state with a weeklong tour aimed at getting back in touch with constituents following a long and contentious presidential campaign.

The statewide swing, set to take him from Beaumont to El Paso and stops in between, is not an unusual undertaking for a U.S. senator during congressional recess. But it comes at a time when Texas Republicans are buzzing more than ever about Cruz's prospects for re-election in 2018, a discussion fueled by Cruz's refusal to endorse Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the GOP national convention.

The latest in the backlash came Monday, when CNN reported that U.S. Rep. Michael McCaulof Austin is being urged to challenge Cruz in the 2018 primary. McCaul is not ruling out the possibility, though he is said to not be actively exploring a run.

Cruz has largely eschewed national attention since the convention and is expected to continue keeping his head down as he traverses Texas this week. A Cruz aide said he will be "meeting with key community leaders, job creators and industry stakeholders to hear from them how he can best serve them in D.C. and ensure their concerns, ideas and interests are heard."

Cruz began the home-state swing Monday in his hometown of Houston, where he met with space industry leaders and toured NASA's Johnson Space Center. The visit coincided with the launch of a Snapchat account he is expected to use to chronicle his Texas travels and more.

In the coming days, Cruz is scheduled to visit El Paso, San Antonio, Laredo, Lubbock, Dallas and Tyler. Among the notable stops on his itinerary are the Port of Beaumont, Fort Bliss, Dyess Air Force Base, the Texas Instruments headquarters and the Space X launch site.

Along the way, Cruz is passing up at least one opportunity for a post-convention turn on the national stage: He will not be at RedState Gathering this weekend in Denver, a meeting of conservative activists he has attended every year since it began in 2009.

Cruz is appearing across the state in his official capacity, though political overtones are inevitable as Trump supporters continue working behind the scenes to derail his re-election. The week started with renewed buzz that he could face a serious primary foe in 2018, including CNN's report that McCaul is being pushed to take on Cruz in what would be an underdog — but not quixotic — intra-party battle.

"Congressman McCaul is focused on winning re-election to the House this November and continuing his work protecting the United States as the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee," McCaul spokesman Walter Zaykowski said in a statement. "He is also very focused on preserving the Republican majorities in Congress and winning the White House."

While McCaul is being encouraged to challenge Cruz by donors, colleagues and others in Washington, McCaul is "not actively considering" it, according to a source familiar with McCaul's re-election campaign and his thinking.

Cruz's advisers have been anticipating a credible primary challenge, especially after his controversial showing in Cleveland. In a podcast released last week, Cruz political chief Jeff Roe said he did not think the re-election campaign "will be a layup."

"I think the moderate Republicans could take a look at him," said Roe, who managed Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign. "I think the Democrats would think that he, you know, ought to take a poke in the eye."

"That's a $20 million race," Roe added. "He needs to focus on that, and he's doing so."

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune