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By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, returned home to a rousing welcome in Texas on Saturday after his attempt to derail Obamacare with a shutdown of the federal government led to sharp criticism of his tactics as reckless and futile.
"After two months in Washington, it's great to be back in America," Cruz joked in speaking to a crowd of about 750 people in a packed downtown San Antonio hotel ballroom.
Cruz was greeted with an eight-minute standing ovation in an appearance organized by the Texas Federation of Republican Women. People in attendance, many of them wearing red to show their support for keeping Texas a conservative-leaning state, lined up to greet him.
The speech and another talk earlier in the day at a panel in Austin marked Cruz's first public appearance in his home state of Texas since his part in the showdown in Washington over the rollout of Obamacare that resulted in a 16-day shutdown of the federal government that ended on Thursday.
A related stalemate over the debt limit threatened to lead to a default on U.S. government debt until the Senate on Wednesday voted 81-18 to end the crisis and the House of Representatives followed with a vote of 285-144 to approve the plan, allowing government to open without defunding Obamacare.
Cruz in his speech in San Antonio blasted Senate Republican leaders for "failing to stand with House Republicans against the train wreck that is Obamacare."
He declined to criticize any Republicans by name.
While he said the agreement to end the shutdown and extend the debt ceiling was a "lousy deal for the American people," Cruz said the battle he and other Republicans waged will end up helping his party.
Cruz became a lightning rod for criticism from Democrats and even from key Republicans when he staged a 21-hour filibuster-style talk on the floor of the Senate last month, as part of his attempt to defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The Texas senator, who has been in office for 10 months since his election last year, received scathing criticism from Democrats, the White House and even some of his fellow Republicans in the Senate during the shutdown and the debate leading up to it.
Senator John McCain from Arizona, a former presidential candidate, and Representative Peter King from New York have been two of the most vocal Republican opponents of Cruz's tactics, with McCain calling Cruz and his allies "wacko birds."
Cruz also took a hit in the polls. A Gallup poll released on October 10 found he had gained significant name recognition, but the percentage of Americans with an unfavorable view of him has jumped to 36 percent from 18 percent in June.
But the welcome Cruz received in Texas demonstrated his popularity among many Republican activists has grown.
In an interview with Reuters after his speech, Cruz said there is "a lot to be encouraged about" after the battle in Washington.
"We saw what can happen when the American people unite, when the American people stand up," he said. "What the American people want is economic growth and job creation. They are crying out for something that fixes all the enormous damage that Obamacare is causing."
(Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Missouri; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Eric Walsh)