Aside from surveys that show the shutdown to be deeply unpopular, the blame-it-on-Cruz strategy is, at the moment, more of a safe bet than a poll-tested message.
Polls show a vast majority of Americans disapprove of the shutdown, and a CNN/ORC poll on Monday showed Republicans in Congress shouldering slightly more of the blame for the stalemate than Democrats or President Obama.
Yet while Americans seem to have clear opinions on the shutdown, Cruz is a much less defined figure. In a poll from Quinnipiac University released last week, almost 60% of Americans said they did not know enough about Cruz to have an opinion about him. Among those who did, opinions were slightly more negative than positive.
Democrats working on the Virginia governor's race tested Cruz's name in a focus group with roughly 30 undecided voters race this past weekend, according to a person familiar with the session, which was held in the Washington suburbs where the shutdown's impact is felt most acutely.
According to the source, Cruz was not a well-known personality among the voters. But when the Democratic operatives described Cruz as a tea party leader with a prominent role in the shutdown, and said he was appearing with Cuccinelli at the gala Saturday night, impressions of both men soured among the focus group participants.
Some Republican pragmatists, already worried that emboldened conservative hard-liners are tarnishing the party's brand, acknowledge that Democrats appear to have found a potent weapon in Cruz.
David Kochel, a 26-year veteran of Iowa politics who managed Mitt Romney's presidential campaign in the battleground state, said bluntly that "swing voters are repelled by Cruz."
Little personal downside for Cruz
But there is little personal downside in the high stakes fight for Cruz, an in-demand figure on the conservative speaking circuit who has designs on the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Having a Democratic bulls eye on his back only boosts his stature on the right, Kochel argued.
"It's an interesting strategy that works to the benefit of Democrats who want to attach his brand to the GOP at a time when he's underwater in approval ratings, but it also works to Cruz's benefit because it elevates him with the GOP base," he said.
Rick Wilson, a Florida-based Republican strategist, said Cruz is custom-built for today's political environment, in which political leaders are often rewarded for combat and punished for compromise.
"The base loves him, he's become the Official Enemy of the Left, and he's raising major bank," Wilson said. "This is the United States of Ambition, and he's making his bones, fast."
Cruz's white-hot profile could easily fade in the coming months, well before the 2014 midterm cycle begins in earnest. But the Republican has shown a remarkably canny ability to maneuver his way into the national conversation.
As long as Cruz remains in the spotlight, Democrats have plans to use him to their advantage.
"Right now, Ted Cruz and the tea party has become a synonym for the problem, and we're going to continue to use that against the Republicans who voted with him," said one national Democratic strategist working on a number of House races. "How big that will be next year, the verdict is still out on that."