TAMPA, Fla. — The Texas delegation kicked off the first day of the Republican National Convention on Monday with a standing ovation for its newest rock star, U.S. Senate hopeful Ted Cruz — and a defiant swipe at a proposed rules change on delegates for the national convention.
Convention managers scrapped the schedule for the opening day of the convention because of the threat from Tropical Storm Isaac, but the storm shifted west and left Tampa with cloudy skies and scattered rain but not much more.
In the meantime, the Texas delegation began the day with morning speeches and a briefing about controversial rules changes at their far-off accommodations — the sprawling Saddlebrook Resort, 30 miles north of Tampa in Wesley Chapel.
Cruz elicited raucous applause with his brief address to delegates. Though he spent the better part of his primary battle arguing that taxes and spending had gone up too much in Texas under Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Cruz portrayed Texas as an oasis of freedom and fiscal sanity, drawing in people who are fleeing high-tax, high-spending states.
“I think the answer to every challenge is found in the state of Texas," Cruz said. " What do we need nationally? More than anything else we need to get back to Texas values.” Cruz's 10-minute, prime-time convention speech has been shifted from Monday to Tuesday at approximately 8:10 p.m. Central time. Cruz said he has been working on the speech for the last two weeks.
Cruz's speech wasn't the only thing that stirred up the Texas delegation. They are also upset about a proposed rule change that would give national candidates the final say in who gets to become a delegate to the party’s convention. Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri said the delegates were unified in pushing for a roll call vote so they can register their opposition to the proposal.
Texas delegates said the rule change would take away the state’s right to determine the makeup of the grassroots activists who select presidents and adopt party rules and procedures. Munisteri said he found it ironic that the Republican Party, whose candidates want to return power to the states, is seeking to consolidate power at the national level.
The new rule, pushed by Mitt Romney's campaign, would essentially let presidential candidates remove or replace delegates that are bound to them. Opponents say it's aimed at curbing the influence of rank-and-file activists and empowering presidential campaigns to clamp down on any dissent at conventions.
In a letter Munisteri read to delegates Monday morning, state Republican Party vice chairwoman Melinda Fredricks, representing Texas on the national rules committee, called the change an “unacceptable infringement on our right to freely choose our delegates to the national convention.”
“Our delegates are in shock that such an amendment would even be presented before the rules committee, much less passed,” she said.
Walking a fine line between their advocacy of the Romney campaign and the sentiments of their own delegation, both Cruz and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn sidestepped the controversy and said they were more focused on winning the election in November.
“That’s part of the process that frankly I think most people don’t think much about, but the rules are important and we need to make sure everybody’s voices are heard,” Cornyn told reporters.
Cruz said he would “leave those decisions to others to make.”
The GOP Senate candidate, now a rising national star, said he is concentrating his efforts on helping Romney beat President Obama — and getting himself elected in November.
Cruz faces Democrat Paul Sadler, a former state representative, in the general election. Sadler recently characterized his Tea Party-backed rival as out of touch with Texas and said he should go back to his foreign birthplace of Canada. (Cruz, son of a Cuban father and American mother, is a U.S. citizen who grew up in Houston.)
“He can throw whatever insults he’d like,” Cruz said. The former Texas solicitor general, who has never held elective office, said he took Sadler’s campaign seriously even though Texas has not put a Democrat in statewide office since 1994.
“There are two ways to run in politics. Scared and unopposed,” Cruz said. “I’m not unopposed, so we’re going to run hard and scared every day from now until Election Day.”
Cruz has committed to one televised debate so far with Sadler and he said his campaign is “in discussions” about having more. He portrayed the race as a classic liberal-versus-conservative contest.
“I will give my opponent credit,” Cruz said. “He is running as an unapologetic liberal, and he’s staying true to his principles and I think that will present a clear choice to voters in November.”
Sadler said Cruz "dogged David Dewhurst" about the importance of debating and "now look who is running away from the voters."
"Now that we’re in a general election, Ted Cruz wants the voters of Texas to know as little about his extreme positions as possible," Sadler said. "He doesn’t want mainstream Texans to know he wants to gut Medicare, slash spending on nursing home care for our elderly and privatize Social Security."