Cambridge, Massachusetts (CNN) – He’s been in Washington only three months, but U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is already planning a pilgrimage to a critical presidential primary state.
The outspoken Cruz, a conservative attorney who has sprinted headlong into the Washington media spotlight since his election last November, will be the keynote speaker at the South Carolina Republican Party's Silver Elephant Dinner, CNN has learned. Cruz spokesperson Catherine Frazier also confirmed his attendance at the dinner, slated for May 3 in Columbia.
Cruz has been an increasingly in-demand speaker among grassroots Republicans thanks to his blunt conservatism and willingness to ruffle feathers on Capitol Hill. He has delivered speeches at glitzy dinners in Washington and even at a local GOP event in Ohio.
But his trip to South Carolina will be his first public foray into an early primary or caucus state, a signal that he is dead serious about being a part of the 2016 presidential conversation despite his limited time on the national stage.
“His popularity among the activists in South Carolina is already so huge he was a natural choice for the Silver Elephant,” a Republican involved in the planning of the event told CNN. “Our activists have been begging us to bring him. He is a rising star. He’s a Jim DeMint style of Republican.”
Indeed, this year’s Silver Elephant Banquet - a fundraiser for the state GOP - will be a tribute to DeMint, the former South Carolina senator who recently left office to head the conservative Heritage Foundation. DeMint endorsed Cruz in his successful 2012 GOP primary fight against Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
The South Carolina dinner has for years sought to highlight up-and-coming GOP leaders and presidential aspirants in a bid to stir up excitement among party activists. Speaking at the event also gives ambitious Republicans a chance to road test their message with an influential slice of the party's conservative base.
Past Silver Elephant speakers have included Ronald Reagan, John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Mike Pence, and last year, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, another possible 2016 White House contender.
Adding to the intrigue this year: Cruz will speak on the very same night that Vice President Joe Biden, himself a potential 2016 candidate, is set to make his early state debut as the headliner at the South Carolina Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, held just a few miles away in downtown Columbia.
CNN's Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.