NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz used his appearance at an annual conservative gathering to scathingly criticize the two front-runners for the presidency, Republican real estate magnate Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Democrat.
Texas' junior senator and GOP presidential hopeful described the U.S. Department of Justice's investigation into Clinton's email server as an "ominous development" and said she is likely headed to prison, a notion that elicited roars from a fiery crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference taking place across the Potomac from Washington, D.C.
"The fact that immunity has been granted to the person who sets up the server means that he can't plead the 5th [Amendment] anymore. Then he's got to spill the beans," he said. "I guarantee you they're asking, 'What did Secretary Clinton know and when she did know it?'"
Cruz joked about debating Clinton at Leavenworth federal penitentiary. "Orange is the new Democratic blue," he said, a play on the prison show "Orange is the New Black."
Trump was as nearly as unpopular at CPAC as Clinton. Cruz's mere mention of his name brought boos from the crowd, although some chanted support for the mogul.
Cruz essentially concurred with a speech the last GOP nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, delivered Thursday criticizing Trump. Cruz's main point of agreement was that Trump is unelectable in a general election.
"I come from a different place than Mitt does, but I'll tell you, the concern Mitt's expressing is a concern people have all over this country," he said.
Cruz largely ignored his other Republican rivals — Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio — in his remarks to the annual winter gathering of the most passionate conservatives.
He acknowledged that many CPAC attendees probably backed other presidential contenders, including many who have dropped out over the last year. He implored the crowd to unite behind his candidacy to counter Trump.
And he argued against any notion that the summer Republican convention might devolve into a brokered contest.
Called GOP establishment favorites "golden children" who voters rejected, Cruz said "if that would happen we will have a manifest revolt on our hands all across the country."
Speaking after Cruz, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson acknowledged that his campaign is ending. Kasich spoke earlier in the day, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is set to address the crowd Saturday morning.
But Trump abruptly canceled his Saturday morning appearance, and Cruz seized on the move to mock the self-described billionaire.
"I think somebody told him Megyn Kelly was going to be here," Cruz said, referring to the Fox News anchor who has crossed swords with Trump.
A presidential straw poll is being conducted throughout the event, and the results will be announced late Saturday. For many years, political observers have closely monitored those results to glean which GOP presidential contenders captured the hearts of the most active of conservatives.
But increasingly, the straw poll had little bearing beyond CPAC. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was a perennial winner as late as last year. His presidential campaign never gained traction, and he withdrew from the race earlier this year.