2016 preview? Perry, Cruz at same GOP gathering

August 8, 2014 - 8:08 PM
GOP 2016 Two Texans

Governor Rick Perry balls up his hand in a fist as he addresses a group of nearly 300 in attendance at the 2014 RedState Gathering, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. Two Texans eyeing possible 2016 presidential runs, Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, are addressing the kind of top-tier conservative event necessary to build national support, the RedState Gathering. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Sounding like he's almost made up his mind to run again for president, Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday told a national audience of conservatives that it's time for a rebellion against a "power-hungry, oppressive" Barack Obama.

Hours later, fellow Texan and tea party firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz edged closer to confirming that he too may mount a 2016 White House run, saying that as many as 15 Republicans are mulling one and hinting that he soon could be one of them. Cruz had previously largely ducked such questions, saying only that his focus was "100 percent on the U.S. Senate."

Both Perry and Cruz landed plum speaking slots at RedState's Gathering in Fort Worth, with the governor helping open the influential conservative blog's annual conference and the senator keynoting an evening session. The pair could eventually find themselves competing for the same slice of the GOP electorate, fiercely religious and social conservatives energized by an intense mistrust of Obama.

"Thomas Jefferson was right when he said, 'A little rebellion now and then is a good thing,'" Perry said told the RedState crowd to cries of "A-men!" ''And now, faced with another power-hungry, oppressive ruler in a faraway place, it's time for us to start a little rebellion."

He stopped short of calling for Obama's impeachment, though, saying, "This war that we will fight will be on the battlefield of ideas."

But the reception from hundreds of attendees was far more raucous for Cruz, who RedState founder Erick Erickson introduced as "the leader of the conservative movement in the United States of America" and who got a standing ovation before his speech even started. Cruz also was later compared to all four Beatles rolled into one, and to one of America's Founding Fathers. He even watched as those gathered bowed their heads in prayer for him.

In subsequent comments to reporters, Cruz downplayed any political tension with his potential Texas presidential rival: "I have always been a big fan of Gov. Perry's." He wouldn't say he'd run for president or if he thought Perry should, but conceded, "I think Republicans should nominate whoever's standing up and leading."

"By all accounts there are 10, 12, 15 people that seem to be thinking about running. What I would encourage each and every one of them to do is stand up and lead," he said. Asked if he was one of those, Cruz responded, "Only time will tell."

Cruz outshining Perry at political gatherings is a relatively new phenomenon. In 2011, Perry used RedState's national convention in South Carolina to kick off his presidential campaign — and Cruz, at the time just an underdog Senate candidate, was among the undercard speakers.

Perry's 2012 presidential campaign saw him rocket briefly to front-runner status only to plummet to political punchline following his "Oops" moment during a debate, when he forgot the third federal department he'd promised to scuttle if elected. Since then, Perry has remade his cowboy image, donning stylish glasses, studying up on domestic and foreign policy and saying he's far humbler about his ability to cope with the national spotlight.

The governor's chief selling point will be his state's white-hot economy, and he said Friday that 35 percent of the nation's new, private-sector jobs had been created in Texas since he became governor in December 2000. He also, though, has garnered headlines nationally by recently deploying 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border amid an influx of unaccompanied Central American children fleeing violence and pouring into the U.S.

"If this president will not act to secure the border, as the governor of Texas, I will," Perry said, drawing a standing ovation at RedState.

On that point, Cruz agreed, blaming the Obama administration's "lawlessness" in extending false hopes of amnesty for the surge of immigrant children. Both Texans also concluded their speeches borrowing a line from Ronald Reagan: "Let's make America once again that shining city on a hill."

Both Perry and Cruz were heading from Fort Worth to Iowa for an event sponsored by The Family Leader, a conservative advocacy group. Iowa opens presidential voting, and both Texans have visited the state nearly every weekend of late.

Still, not everyone is ready to get behind Cruz.

"Between Perry and Cruz, I'll take Perry," said Michael Lee Pimberton, a conference attendee from Radcliff, Kentucky, and a retired Army veteran. He said Cruz "is extraordinary" but since the senator was born in Canada, he's not sure he qualifies to be president.

Still, former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, now president of the Heritage Foundation, said both are on the presidential radars of conservatives nationwide "but Cruz more than Perry."

"He's very inspirational," said DeMint, a longtime Cruz supporter. "His willingness to fight the system from the inside has really inspired people."