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Perry, Cornyn Take Aim at White House in CPAC Speeches

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Gov. Rick Perry urged attendees to look to states like Texas, as opposed to the federal government, to help create jobs and strengthen the economy.

By Dave Levinthal and Julie Patel, Center for Public Integrity
Sen. John Cornyn and Gov. Rick Perry during Cornyn's reelection campaign kickoff in Austin, Texas on November 15th, 2013

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Gov. Rick Perry sounded the part of a presidential candidate Friday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, bashing President Obama and his policies, while declaring the nation “must elect the right kind of leaders to represent us in Washington.”

Perry, who is not seeking re-election this year, didn’t name himself as a potential 2016 White House hopeful while speaking before several hundred attendees at the conference. His 2012 presidential campaign quickly fizzled after much initial fanfare and high poll numbers.

But Perry urged Republicans that they “don’t have to accept recent history — we just need to change the presidency.”

In saying so, Perry used his platform — he was the opening act on the second day of the three-day conference that attracts thousands of conservative activists and A-list Republican personalities — to promote Texas as a model for limited taxes, spending restraint and unbridled opportunity.

Perry further urged attendees to look to states like Texas, as opposed to the federal government, to help create jobs and strengthen the economy.

“We have demonstrated that no state can tax and spend its way to prosperity, but with the right policies, you can grow your way there,” he said.

New York and California served as Perry’s examples of states with wrong-headed governments that tax residents too much and inhibit economic prosperity. He then shouted out several other GOP governors by name  — Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Scott of Florida — as examples of Republican leaders whom he admires.

Of them, only Walker and Jindal are widely considered potential presidential hopefuls in 2016. Perry made no mention of other Republican governors, such as Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio, who could pursue the White House.

The two-thirds-full auditorium seemed to hold its collective breath with anticipation when Perry, in the midst of bashing the government for ineptitude, at one point declared that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.” Perry in 2009 notably mused that Texas might reconsider its place in the union if “Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people.”

But on Friday, he quickly clarified that, as far as he’s concerned, “It’s time for a little bit of rebellion on the battlefield of ideas.”

It was a decidedly Lone Star morning at CPAC, as John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, immediately followed Perry. He likewise slammed Obama over health care, the IRS Tea Party scandal and for generally advocating for a “larger, more obtrusive federal government.”

Cornyn arrived at CPAC on a political high, having easily won the Republican primary Tuesday in a closely watched race that pitted him against a Tea Party-backed challenger, U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood.

Invoking George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Payne, Cornyn pushed for public officials to be honest and accountable to citizens – in contrast with what he said is the “shocking abandonment” of the Obama administration.

He then talked about the U.S. response to the shooting of its ambassador to Libya in the city of Benghazi, problems with the Obamacare website and the United States losing track of weapons sent to Mexico to target drug cartel criminals. He also panned the 2013 scandal involving IRS officials who flagged Tea Party-affiliated and other nonprofit groups for extra scrutiny.

“When it came to light that the IRS was targeting Americans whose only offense was to disagree with the administration, did we get accountability?” Cornyn asked.

“No!” shouted audience members.

Cornyn said Republicans were right to have opposed Obamacare.

“We screamed from the rooftops” about it, he said. “We were mocked and disparaged by President Obama and his liberal allies.”

His prescription: “Hold the House and take back the Senate.”

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