President Ted Cruz?

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Sen. Ted Cruz will be stepping out in Iowa next month to speak at a major conservative event, one of the strongest signs yet that he intends to seek the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

The tea party favorite from Texas is scheduled to address a March 18 homeschooling rally, following the paths of former presidential contenders who had popularity in the state’s critical primary caucuses, such as Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, The Washington Post reports.

“Senator Cruz is very supportive of educational freedom,” Vicki Crawford, an organizer for Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, which is hosting the event, told the Post.

“He’s a perfect match for us. He’s been a courageous voice in the Senate,” she said, adding, “I think he’d be a wonderful choice to step into the ring in 2016.”

Cruz has already traveled to Iowa several times this year for smaller events, and strategists say that early support from conservatives could be key to his success in the Hawkeye State which hosts the first nominating contest of the presidential race, according to the Post.

“The homeschool event will have hundreds of people there, it’s a huge event, and these are the people who organize, communicate, and build a ready-made foundation for any caucus campaign in Iowa,” Chuck Laudner, a veteran Iowa GOP consultant, told the Post.

“They are looped in and they will fight for you, if you can win them over. I know a lot of them already like Cruz, and this will be a big forum—a red-letter date.”

Meanwhile, Cruz has had harsh words for Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him a “thug.”

“I think the direction he is taking Russia is very problematic,” Cruz said during an appearance Monday on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, according to Breitbart.com. “He is systematically oppressing his people, but he is also taking advantage of President Obama’s foreign policy blunders to expand Russian influence.”

He said that U.S. negotiations with Putin should be from a position of strength, which the Obama administration has failed to do.

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