As Paul strug­gles in polls, Cruz moves to pick up lib­er­tar­i­ans

But for some, the Texan’s re­li­gious zeal is cause for cau­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY KATIE ZEZ­IMA katie.zez­ima@wash­post.com

nashua, n.h. — Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) came to a con­ven­tion of lib­er­tar­ian-lean­ing Repub­li­cans and talked about shrink­ing gov­ern­ment, slash­ing reg­u­la­tions, fight­ing against the bulk col­lec­tion of phone data and his great affin­ity for a ri­val in the pres­i­den­tial race. “I love Rand Paul,” Cruz said. Paul, Ken­tucky’s ju­nior U.S. sen­a­tor and scion of one of the coun­try’s most fa­mous lib­er­tar­ian fam­i­lies, was ex­pected to lock down the sup­port of lib­er­tar­ian vot­ers in the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. But as Paul’s poll num­bers have sagged na­tion­ally — and in such lib­er­tar­ian-minded places as New Hamp­shire — Cruz is try­ing to pick off what is some­times called the lib­erty vote.

Cruz es­sen­tially crashed what was sup­posed to be Paul’s big lib­er­tar­ian party here, the bi­en­nial meet­ing of the Repub­li­can Lib­erty Cau­cus. Cruz stood in a ho­tel here on a dreary Fri­day morn­ing, sur­rounded by sup­port­ers and cu­ri­ous at­ten­dees who held signs and jos­tled for photos.

“I was elected with tremen­dous sup­port from the lib­erty move­ment,” Cruz said of his 2012 Se­nate cam­paign, not­ing that Rand Paul and his fa­ther, for­mer rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ron Paul (R-Tex.), both en­dorsed him in that race.

The Texas Repub­li­can’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign has been mak­ing the case that as Paul’s cam­paign has floun­dered, Cruz is vi­able — flush with cash and able to go the dis­tance.

On the trail, Cruz has in­voked the Fourth Amend­ment’s pri­vacy pro­tec­tions and railed against the Fed­eral Re­serve. Last month, the cam­paign rolled out a video show­ing eight sup­port­ers of Ron Paul’s 2012 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign who are back­ing Cruz for 2016.

“The lib­erty move­ment has been in­te­gral to our cam­paign since Day One,” Cruz said.

Cruz breaks down the Repub­li­can elec­torate into four brack­ets of sup­port: tea party con­ser­va­tives; evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians; es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans; and lib­er­tar­i­ans. He sees his base in the tea party and evan­gel­i­cal wings, but he also is try­ing to siphon off lib­er­tar­ian vot­ers with a mes­sage of lim­ited gov­ern­ment.

Cruz tai­lored his speech here in New Hamp­shire to those vot­ers. He took a less hawk­ish tone when dis­cussing for­eign pol­icy, say­ing that the United States “shouldn’t en­gage in na­tion-build­ing” and call­ing for armed Kur­dish ground troops to fight the Is­lamic State.

“There’s no rea­son for us to get in the mid­dle of the Syr­ian civil war,” he said.

Cruz praised the lib­erty move­ment as an “amaz­ing thing” and vowed that the size of gov­ern­ment will be “ma­te­ri­ally smaller” if he is elected pres­i­dent. He pro­moted a bill he co-spon­sored to end the bulk col­lec­tion of phonemeta data — an is­sue that Rand Paul cham­pi­oned this year with a nearly 11hour Se­nate floor speech.

“This is the bat­tle­ground be­tween Cruz and Paul,” said Dave Nalle, a for­mer chair­man of the Lib­erty Cau­cus. He said Paul ap­peals to pri­vacy-minded lib­er­tar­i­ans while Cruz ap­peals to those whowant a strict ad­her­ence to the Con­sti­tu­tion.

“I was im­pressed” with Cruz, said Louis Colavec­chio Sr. of Wake­field, R.I., who also said he has not de­cided whom he will sup­port in the pri­mary.

The scram­ble for sup­port­ers seems to have some­what strained the cor­dial re­la­tion­ship be­tween the one­time Se­nate al­lies. Last month, Paul said Cruz was “pretty much done for” in the Se­nate af­ter Cruz tried to dis­rupt the pas­sage of a gov­ern­ment fund­ing bill be­cause it would give money to Planned Par­ent­hood.

“Ted has cho­sen to make this re­ally per­sonal and cho­sen to call peo­ple dis­hon­est in lead­er­ship . . . which re­ally goes against the deco­rum and also against the rules of the Se­nate, and as a con­se­quence he can’t get any­thing done leg­isla­tively,” Paul said on Fox News Ra­dio. On Fri­day, Cruz called Paul “a friend” and “good man.”

Paul gave an an­i­mated speech here and ap­peared to be in his com­fort zone, say­ing he wants a gov­ern­ment that leaves him alone. He re­minded his au­di­ence of his marathon Se­nate speech to de­fend that prin­ci­ple. He called for re­form of the crim­i­nal-jus­tice sys­tem, and he knocked other can­di­dates for say­ing they would not hold talks with ri­val na­tions. Paul also rapped Congress, la­bel­ing a just-passed bill that tem­po­rar­ily funds the gov­ern­ment “a bunch of crap” and the body it­self “im­po­tent and in­con­se­quen­tial.”

“I’m em­bar­rassed that I’m even a part of it,” said Paul, sport­ing a bright-blue belt with the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky’s logo on it.

Paul played down the threat from Cruz.

“Both here and Iowa, we know where our sup­port is and where my dad’ s sup­port was, and we feel com­fort­able that the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of it is with us,” Paul said.

Some lib­er­tar­i­ans here were un­com­fort­able with Cruz mak­ing re­li­gion such a large part of his cam­paign.

“I don’t think he’s go­ing to have as much sway on Rand Paul’ se­lect abil­ity as peo­ple think he will, be­cause he’s a re­li­gious zealot. It’s too much,” said Austin Sekel, 22, who is sup­port­ing Paul. Cruz “needs to stop grand­stand­ing on the Se­nate floor,” he said.

Sekel and oth­ers said they do not think Paul’s sag­ging poll num­bers will change any­thing. Sekel thinks Paul has a base of sup­port that has not yet be­come en­gaged in the cam­paign.

Bob Pyle, a pas­tor from Har­ris­burg, Pa., said Paul has a “solid, loyal fol­low­ing that is not given to the sounds of throw­ing red meat.” Be­tween those peo­ple and Ron Paul sup­port­ers, Pyle said the Ken­tucky Repub­li­can’s for­tunes will only in­crease.

Other peo­ple here are not com­pletely en­am­ored of ei­ther can­di­date. Some lib­er­tar­i­ans have said that Paul has run his race too far from his fa­ther’s pure lib­er­tar­ian prin­ci­ples. They in­clude John Cisar, 36, of Burling­ton, Vt.

“I think there’s a big schism among lib­er­tar­i­ans that he’s fallen short of ex­pec­ta­tions,” Cisar said of Paul. Cisar said that he is not a Cruz fan and that he thinks Paul is the more ac­cept­able of the two in the 2016 race.

“He’s the lesser of the evils,” Cisar said of Paul. “And that doesn’t make me feel re­ally good in­side to vote for him.”

“The lib­erty move­ment has been in­te­gral to our cam­paign since Day One.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), ad­dress­ing the Repub­li­can Lib­erty Cau­cus in Nashua, N.H., on Fri­day

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