Rafael Cruz fled Cuba in 1957 after being jailed under dictator Fulgencio Batista. He arrived in America with $100 sowed in his underwear and worked his way through the University of Texas as a dishwasher. He says he thought of Castro as Cuba's savior until the state started seizing private property.
It's a story Ted Cruz supporters know by heart — both men repeat it at nearly all public appearances.
"He's the real thing. He's not just a front. He believes what he says," said Henry Churchwell, a retiree who heads the Madison County Tea Party.
In the United States, Rafael Cruz said, he became concerned in the 1970s that "the government was starting to impose socialism," and was delighted when his son went to Princeton and Harvard and earned a law degree, saying the schools needed stronger conservative voices.
The elder Cruz told the Madisonville crowd that the death panels that "everybody maligned" when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin spoke out about them have now begun under the White House's signature health care law. If Republicans don't "retake the Senate in 2014, I don't know if we have a country in 2016," he said.
When he meets with preachers, Rafael encourages them to endorse conservative candidates from the pulpit — in defiance of federal bans on nonprofits engaging in political campaigning.
"I lost my freedom once," he said of leaving Cuba for good "and I'm not going to lose it again. I'd rather die trying."
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