With the spotlight focused on Congress, they say, it will allow Cruz to make a sustained case to tea party and evangelical voters that he’s the one candidate doing battle in the trenches for their causes, just as many of them are picking a horse in the race. The goal, he and allies stop just short of saying, is to expose his chief competitors for the outsider mantle as pretenders by comparison.

“Every election we see campaign conservatives who talk a good game on the campaign trail, and yet haven’t walked the walk,” Cruz told POLITICO in an interview last week. “The clearest distinction is that, of the Republican candidates running, I am the only consistent conservative who on issue after issue after issue has been the same yesterday, today, tomorrow.”

“The fight is in Washington,” said Steve Deace, an influential conservative Iowa radio host who has endorsed Cruz. “You can be great in debates, you can be great on Fox News … but really, ultimately, are you great where the battle is the hottest?”

Other Republicans, however, warn that the fiscal fights this fall could define Cruz — whose time in Congress is best known for the two-week government shutdown he helped instigate in 2013, and the routine ire he draws from his Senate colleagues — as too doctrinaire and too much of a pariah within his own party to win a general election.