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Ted Cruz woos Republicans in South Florida

Laws and LegislationElectionsRepublican PartyTelevisionTed CruzAffordable Care Act (Obamacare)

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is visiting South Florida to help the Republican Party raise money — and at the same time audition for donors and activists who could prove valuable if he runs for president.

More coverage over in the righthand column on Twitter @BrowardPolitics.

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Anita Mitchell, chairwoman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, dismissed criticism of Republicans embracing Cruz from U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

“As far as the chairman of the DNC, Miss Wasserman Schultz, she’s a great one to talk about extremism, by the way. So I have one thing to say to her: Game on, lady.”

Margi Helschien, who lives west of Boca Raton and serves as president of the Independent Conservative Action Network, said Cruz isn’t in the mainstream for South Florida Republicans, who don’t tend to be as conservative as Republicans elsewhere in the state.

“Ted Cruz is a wonderful political figure. Smart guy. Knows his stuff,” she said. “He is exciting. He is enthusiastic.”

She said the Sunshine State is important for anyone thinking of running for president.

“Florida’s an important state. That’s one of the major states you need to win,” she said. “They need to know everybody. They need people to know them. And they need to try to win this state.”

Many attendees liked what they heard.

“I loved him,” said John Parke, of Delray Beach.

Tom Thayer, of Boca Raton, termed Cruz “fantastic. A lot of great ideas. A lot of enthusiasm.”

He and his wife Vicky said they like the idea of a Cruz candidacy for president.

“I loved him. I thought he was terrific. Everything he said I agreed with,” she said.

Charlie Crist

Though the governor’s race comes up this fall, with Cruz as speaker – and warm up speeches by conservative firebrand Dr. Ben Carson and reality TV host and real estate developer Donald Trump – the evening dealt mostly with national issues and the presidency.

Gov. Rick Scott wasn’t present (nor was Attorney General Pam Bondi). But other top Republicans took up his cause, and criticized former Gov. Charlie Crist, a former Republican seeking the Democratic nomination to run for his old job.

Carlos Lopez-Cantera, on his 16th day as lieutenant governor, repeated an oft-told joke about Crist. “A Republican, an independent and a Democrat walk into a bar. And the bartender says, ‘Hey Charlie.’”

And Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam declared “we cannot allow Florida to succumb to the temptation of cotton candy populism that Charlie Crist represents.”

The speech

Cruz described himself as supremely optimistic about the future, and delivered a speech filled with criticisms of President Barack Obama. He said he’s sure the “grass roots” will help rescue the country from what he sees as its ill advised course.

“These are not ordinary times in politics. We are facing extraordinary threats,” he said. “I am profoundly optimistic that together we are going to pull America back.”

Many establishment, mainstream Republicans think Cruz is a political bomb-thrower and don’t like him, especially after he emerged as one of the architects of the budget standoff last fall that led to the government shutdown that send Republican popularity plummeting.

He called it “the battle to stop the train wreck, the disaster that is Obamacare.”

Contrary to the view of Democrats and Republican leaders and strategists, Cruz said it was an unrecognized victory. That’s because, he said, people weren’t aware of shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, before his effort.

And, he said, he’s not giving up. “I am convinced we are going to repeal every single word of Obamacare,” he said.

He said the first thing Republicans, and all Americans must do is “stand for liberty.”

“Liberty has never been more under assault than it is today,” he said. “It seems like President Obama is trying to go down the Bill of Rights and violate each one of them one at a time.”

He decried what he called “abuse of power” in the Obama administration. “And then there is the pattern of lawlessness. We have never seen a president of the United States behave as this president has. If he disagrees with the law, he simply refuses to follow it, refuses to enforce it.”

He said Obama has done that with immigration, same-sex marriage and drug laws, but said “the most striking example of lawlessness is Obamacare.”

He said the rise of activists who can influence government action by things like creating an online uprising on Twitter is part of “something incredible” happening in politics. “The most significant thing to happen in the last couple of years is the rise of the grass roots.”

“Liberty is never safer than when politicians are terrified,” he said.

Cruz said the failure of Congress to pass gun restrictions in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre – something polling showed was favored by the public – was “a victory for the grass roots.” He said Obama’s attempt to go after guns was an attempt to “go after the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens.”

He said the notion that Republicans are the party of the rich is “the single biggest lie in all of politics.” He said the wealthy and big businesses do fine under the current system, but poor and middle class are hurt.”

He said his father, who fled Cuba 57 years ago and started as a dishwasher to earn money to pay for his education, wouldn’t to as well today. He’d probably lose his job or have his hours cut because of government regulation and taxes, Cruz said.

He gave shout outs to the two most prominent Florida Republicans who rose to prominence with the tea party wave of 2010. He called former U.S. Rep. Allen West, who represented Broward and Palm Beach counties, “a tireless, ferocious advocate of liberty.” A few minutes later he referred to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as a “principled, ferocious fighter for liberty.”

West was present, and delivered a brief speech. Rubio wasn’t there, but spoke via video.

The event attracted a sellout crowd of more than 600. Palm Beach County Republican Chairwoman Anita Mitchell said she expected the party’s net proceeds from the event would range from $85,000 to $90,000.

It was late, after 10 p.m., by the time Cruz got on stage for his 34-minute speech. He kept the audience engaged, not just with his policy prescriptions, but with a constant stream of one-liners. Sometimes they were simply funny, other times they made a political point.

For example, he jabbed at the National Security Agency phone call monitoring with this line: “Please leave your cell phones on. I want to make sure President Obama hears every word I have to say tonight.”

At the beginning, he noted the ornate ballroom Trump built at Mar-a-Lago. “It’s so great to be welcomed into Donald’s modest living room.”

He repeated several lines from previous speeches, such as his comment that he spent last week in Washington, “so it is great to be back in America.”

He said it’s been so cold this winter in Washington that “I actually saw a Democrat with hands in his own pockets.”

And he said he liked mentioning Vice President Joe Biden. “You don’t need a punch line. You just say his name [and] people laugh.”

Cruz summed up this way: “If you remember nothing that I said tonight, than you probably had too much wine with dinner. But if you remember just one thing that I said tonight, let it be this: that I am profoundly optimistic and hopeful.”

Answering questions

Cruz wasn’t in Florida to make news. He was here to boost his own fortunes and the Republican Party.

However, in a brief, impromptu news conference late Friday night, he said rock star turned far right activist Ted Nugent shouldn’t have called President Barack Obama a "subhuman mongrel.”

He avoided questions about what his travels to Florida and other key states signal about his intentions about running for president in 2016.

Q: How important is Florida, especially the kind of donors that are here tonight, if you say were going to run for president?

Cruz: Look, Florida is tremendously important to the country. It is a tremendous base of leadership of activists. It is a tremendous base of commerce, of agriculture. And a fantastic base of tourism. I will confess as a Texan, my family, my little girls love to come to Florida beaches. And so it is great to have a chance to be here to visit with so many supporters to encourage them. And I really feel honored to have the chance to be here

Q: But politically how important is it?

Cruz: Look on a national level Florida is absolutely critical politically. And it always has been. I remember well spending some 36 days in Tallahassee in 2000 with George W. Bush when the entire presidential election came down to 537 votes here in the state of Florida. And so it’s hard to be more central and more critical than that.

Q: You’ve spent some time in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, places like that. How would you characterize your intentions for 2016?

Cruz: Well in my view, we are facing extraordinary fiscal and economic threats. And the only way to turn this country around is to empower the grassroots. And so in my time in office, I have devoted the vast majority of my energy not to making the case inside of D.C. I don’t think D.C. is listening to the American people. But rather to attempting to mobilize and energize the American people. In the past year we did roughly 100 events back in the state of Texas. We’ve been to over a dozen states across the country  because any chance I have an opportunity to come and encourage the grassroots, encourage conservatives, we can rise up and we can get back to the free market principles, the constitutional liberties that are the foundation of this great nation, I’m happy to do so because the only way I believe we’re going to turn the country around is through the grassroots rising up.

Q: A controversy from your home state: Would you appear with Ted Nugent and what do you think of his apology and his comments?

Cruz: Well look I’m glad he apologized. What he said I wouldn’t have said. I don’t agree with it. You know I do think the media plays an interesting double standard in that President Obama loves to have Hollywood celebrities and Jay Z and invite him to the White House and I don’t recall once the media asking President Obama about misogynist rap lyrics, about offensive and extreme things his Hollywood friends have said.  So I do think there’s a media double standard in play. But I’m glad Ted Nugent apologized, he shouldn’t have said what he said.

11:22 p.m., Feb. 21

Cruz delivered a 34 minute speech, without notes, as he crisscrossed the stage, eschewing the lectern.

He offered lots of jokes, and serious policy prescriptions.

Noting the ornate ballroom at the Donald Trump-owned Mar-a-Lago Club, he quipped that “it is so great to be welcomed into Donald’s modest living room.”

He also praised the real estate investor and reality TV show host as “a tremendous businessman” and a powerful voice for free enterprise.”

Many of his jokes were repeats of others he tells during his speeches, such as his line that he spent last week in Washington, D.C., “so it is great to be back in America.”

He said Republicans, and all Americans, need to stand for liberty, which he said “has never been more under assault than it is today.”

Cruz criticized President Barack Obama as lawlessness, which he said is shown profoundly by the way the administration is enforcing – or not enforcing, in his view – the health care law known as Obamacare.

He said grassroots Americans are rising and demanding changes in the way the country is run.

“Together we will bring back morning in America,” he said.

Unlike some politicians who speak and run, Cruz spent more than 45 minutes in the ballroom after his speech ended, shaking everyone's hand who wanted to greet him. He was one of the last people to leave the room.

The ballroom lights are getting dimmed. So check back Saturday for pictures, more comments from Cruz and audience reactions.

9:12 p.m.

South Florida is home to many Republicans who call themselves moderate (they’d never use the term liberal.)

But not Patrick Riley, a retired businessman from Palm Beach Gardens.  “I’m certainly not a moderate.”

He is a Cruz fan. “He’s a wonderful American. He wants the best for the country,” Riley said.

8:56 p.m.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam noted he’s one of many, many speakers in the lineup,.

“It’s not a good Lincoln Day dinner without 14 keynote speakers,” he said.

And he continued the criticism of Crist: “We cannot allow Florida to succumb to the cotton candy populism that Charlie Crist represents.”

8:49 p.m.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who’s had the job for 16 days, says it’s his first Lincoln Day in the new job.

He says it’s a cool event with celebs like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

“I’m glad this is my first Lincoln Day dinner. Come on. Mar-a-Lago. Hello?”

He used the standard Republican line about former Gov. Charlie Crist, who was a Republican but is now a Democrat seeking to return to his old job.

He said Crist “ran away” from the governorship.

“I’m glad he did. I’m glad he did.

“Without Charlie Crist running away, we wouldn’t have Rick Scott,” Lopez-Cantera said.

“Sometimes Rick Scott gets a bump rap, the stories about him,” Lopez-Cantera said, adding that he can vouch that Scott is caring, loving and warm.

8:35 p.m.

Palm Beach County Republican Chairwoman Anita Mitchell opened the gathering.

She said many people believe the Republican Party is divided. Not true, Mitchell said.

“I have news for them. Nothing is further from the truth,” she said.

Republicans are united in believing in less regulation, smaller government, less taxes and more freedom. (Mitchell didn’t mention social issues.)

“We have a strong message and we have a strong history of diversity,” she said. “We have a big tent that all of us can be proud of.

“Let the opposition know: Game on for a Republican victory in 2014.”

 8:16 p.m.

The Palm Beach County Republican Party's Lincoln Day dinner is at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, owned by the prominent Republican Donald Trump.

The opposition:

Wasserman Schultz says Florida Republicans prove they're out of touch by embracing Ted Cruz

Political analyst:

Is Ted Cruz's visit good for Florida Republicans?

The visit:

Ted Cruz brings tea party populism to Florida fundraising circuit

The numbers:

So far, Florida voters have mixed views about Cruz.

A Quinnipiac University Poll released Jan. 31 found just 9 percent of Florida Republicans would vote for him in a presidential primary. He was far behind the former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Cruz was tied with fellow tea party U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Cruz was ahead of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, none of whom was above 5 percent in the poll.

Cruz did best with conservative, born again Evangelicals, and tea party members. He did poorly with moderates, people who aren’t born again, and non-tea partiers.

Asked if he’d make a good president, 23 percent of voters said yes and 44 percent said no.

Notably, 19 percent of Republicans and 21 percent of conservatives and 56 percent of moderates – a pivotal group needed to win a general election and the state’s 29 electoral votes – said he wouldn’t make a good president.

The numbers also indicate many people – 33 percent of those surveyed – didn’t know enough about Cruz to make a judgment.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Laws and LegislationElectionsRepublican PartyTelevisionTed CruzAffordable Care Act (Obamacare)
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