NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Delivering his presidential pitch Thursday to one of the largest annual conservative gatherings, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz argued that he has uniquely fought for the conservative cause — even against members of his own party.
By Saturday, all of the major possible contenders for the Republican presidential nomination will have spoken at the event in suburban Washington, D.C. Some of the nation's most conservative firebrands — college students, consultants, members of Congress and activists — assemble from across the country each year to attend the late-winter event.
Cruz sought to separate himself from the pack Thursday afternoon by underscoring his clashes with fellow Republicans. “The biggest divide we have in this country is not between Republicans and Democrats," he said, pacing the stage. "The biggest divide we have in this country is between career politicians in Washington and the American people.”
Cruz did not criticize any of his potential GOP presidential rivals, saving his fire for Senate Republican leadership for "cutting a deal with Harry Reid" on funding the Department of Homeland Security.
Cruz compared himself to the car service Uber, positing that he has affected the Republican Party in the same way Uber upended the taxi industry in recent years. "What I'm trying to do is bring disruption back into politics," he said.
While some of his fire was aimed at the likely Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Cruz's harshest comment was an indirect shot at former President Bill Clinton.
During a word association "lightning round" with Sean Hannity, the Fox News personality said "Bill Clinton."
"Youth outreach," Cruz responded, seemingly alluding to Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Another Texan, former Gov. Rick Perry, will speak at the conference Friday morning. Both will compete in a Saturday CPAC straw poll. The stakes are high for both.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have overshadowed the two Texans in recent weeks. A strong straw poll showing on Saturday could boost Perry or Cruz as the early presidential campaign heads into the spring.
Without mentioning the straw poll directly, Cruz directly appealed to the audience.
“The men and women of CPAC are going to play a fundamental decision in how we turn this country around," Cruz said. "The men and women gathered here today are going to play a critical role in reigniting the miracle of America."
Outside of the speech hall, volunteers passed out custom-made buttons that said "Cruz Crew."
It's a tactic that worked two years ago for Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, another presidential contender, when he won the CPAC straw poll. That year, his supporters passed out "Stand with Rand" buttons and paraphernalia at the conference.
Looking ahead to the weekend, Cruz is heading to Florida for a meeting of the Club for Growth, a fiscal conservative group. Cruz, along with Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Walker, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, will speak to the group at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, according to The Washington Post.
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