Republican presidential hopefuls test waters at GOP event

Last modified: 4/15/2014 1:00:48 AM
Several possible Republican presidential candidates tested their messages before hundreds of voters in Manchester yesterday, each bringing his own flavor to the day’s theme of expanding personal freedoms.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas crafted a narrative around his family and promised to continue his quest to repeal Obamacare. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a 2008 presidential contender, said America today is a place that continually limits people’s freedoms. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky talked about expanding the party’s base by tackling issues such as the war on drugs. Both Cruz and Paul also focused heavily on spying by the National Security Administration, which they said violates the fundamental protections of privacy in the Fourth Amendment.

“Please leave your cell phones on, I want to make sure President Obama hears everything I have to say,” Cruz joked.

The three addressed a crowd of roughly 700 people at the Freedom Summit, an event held by Americans for Prosperity and Citizens United. In addition to the three potential candidates, the event featured speeches from leading conservative voices and members of Congress as well as

former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich and business magnate Donald Trump. Throughout the day, speakers railed against policies from Obamacare to the Common Core educational standards and “incompetence” by Democrats who favor expanding the federal bureaucracy.

Paul, Cruz and Huckabee, who will all be courting the votes of these activists if they choose to run here, made sure to cheer the state’s motto of “Live Free or Die” and were well-received by the crowd.

Cruz took to the stage with lighthearted stories about his daughters and jokes about how the Republican leadership in Congress views him. He moved around the stage as he spoke, taking a more casual approach than other speakers who stayed parked behind the lectern. Under the country’s current leadership, individual freedoms are under more assault than they’ve ever been, Cruz told the crowd, referencing NSA spying and targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service.

Just elected to the Senate in 2012, Cruz rose to fame for his opposition to Obamacare, which he spoke against on the Senate floor for 21 hours. Yesterday, he reiterated his opposition to the law and said he is optimistic it will be repealed. Although Cruz hasn’t officially declared his intentions to run in 2016, he ended his speech by asking the audience to send a text message to get on his list of “grassroots” activists.

“I’m spending my time not focused on Washington, not trying to convince Washington of anything, ’cause they ain’t listening,” he said. “What I’m trying to do instead is help mobilize the American people.”

Huckabee, who is at the top of the Republican pack in early presidential polling, hit on key conservative talking points such as the IRS targeting and the death of four Americans in Benghazi.

He said he fears today’s children will be worse off than their parents if the direction of the country doesn’t change. He also spoke emphatically against what he believes are intrusions on the First Amendment and individual freedoms.

“My gosh, I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the U.S.,” he said.

American success depends in part on returning power now in the hands of the federal government to the cities and states, he said. He also spoke out against the idea that the U.S. Supreme Court justices have the ultimate power to determine policies and cultural ideas.

When Paul took the stage, he made similar remarks to those he gave in Dover the night before, at a fundraiser for the state Republican Party. A central theme of his platform is expanding the Republican base, primarily to those less affluent and minorities. One way to do this could be targeting the war on drugs, he said, which imposes too harsh penalties on using and selling marijuana that disproportionately affect minorities.

Republicans shouldn’t be the party of “fat cats” and Wall Street, Paul said. The president’s policies haven’t done anything to lift people out of poverty, and Republicans can and should offer solutions, he said.

“We’re all interconnected; we’ve got to get beyond this class warfare,” Paul said.

Beyond presidential politics, a handful of prominent state Republicans tried to fire up the crowd for statewide victories in 2014.

Former New Hampshire House speaker Bill O’Brien, a Mont Vernon Republican, was recognized as AFP-New Hampshire’s Conservative of the Year. Gingrich presented O’Brien with the award, saying no lawmaker has been “bolder and more aggressive” in advancing conservative principles. Under O’Brien’s leadership, the Legislature drastically slashed state spending and advanced strongly conservative policies.

O’Brien also proudly reminded the crowd that under his leadership, the Legislature refused to create a state-based health insurance exchange under Obamacare. The state now uses the federal exchange, which currently has only 
one provider in New Hampshire.

Republicans can pursue conservative policies again if they win in 2014, said Rep. Pam Tucker, a Greenland Republican and chairwoman of the House Republican Alliance. She encouraged attendees to run for office, saying a Republican-dominated Legislature would push for right-to-work laws, cut corporate income taxes and stop cooperating with the federal government on Obamacare.

Several Democrats stood outside the event in the morning, holding signs in protest. Americans for Prosperity is backed by billionaires Charles and David Koch. Speaking out against the brothers and the candidates they support has become a rallying cry for Democrats this election cycle.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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