As a high-school student, Cruz earned scholarship money by entering speech contests organized by the Free Enterprise Institute, in which participants studied the "Ten Pillars of Economic Wisdom," a libertarian manifesto, and then delivered 20-minute speeches about it. As part of the program, Cruz eventually memorized the Constitution and traveled around Texas discussing conservative ideas. He went on to Princeton, where he was a champion debater. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1995, he clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
After a few years spent with the Washington law firm Cooper, Carvin & Rosenthal, Cruz joined the George W. Bush's campaign in 2000 as a domestic policy adviser. It was on the campaign trail he met his wife, Heidi Nelson Cruz, another member of the policy team. Both were dispatched to Florida in the chaos of the recount, which then led to jobs in the Bush administration. Cruz served first as associate deputy general at the Justice Department and then as director of the Office of Policy Planning for the Federal Trade Commission.
He returned to Texas in 2003, when he was appointed state solicitor general, making him the youngest person to ascend to the post in the country and the first Hispanic to hold the position in Texas. During his five-year tenure, Cruz argued before the U.S. Supreme Court nine times and participated in a number of high-profile cases, including one in which Texas fought to execute a Mexican citizen who raped and murdered two teenage girls and another in which he defended the display of the Ten Commandments on the state Capitol grounds. Cruz in July 2012 told the Texas Tribune, "We ended up, year after year, arguing some of the biggest cases in the country. There was a degree of serendipity in that, but there was also a concerted effort to seek out and lead conservative fights."
Cruz was in private practice when he decided to run for the Senate. He was expected to be no match for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who not only had millions of dollars to throw into the race but also the backing of almost every prominent state Republican, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Cruz sank $1 million of his own money into the contest shortly before the primary and held Dewhurst to under 50 percent of the vote to force a runoff. From there, Cruz attracted the attention of grassroots tea partiers and got the backing of such national conservative heavyweights as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, as well as outside groups such as the Club for Growth and Freedom Works.
Dewhurst sought to cast Cruz as a creature of Washington, given his government experience, and suggested that Cruz he did not have the state's best interests in mind. Cruz portrayed Dewhurst as just another moderate Republican. Cruz ultimately trounced Dewhurst by 14 percentage points. From there, he had little trouble beating his opponent in the general election, Democrat Paul Sadler, a lawyer from Henderson and a former Texas House member.