MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — During a pro-gun event at a New Hampshire shooting range this month, Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz explained his views on protecting Second Amendment rights, freedom and liberty for all Americans.
“What is it about freedom that is so terrifying for liberals?” he asked a crowd of conservative voters. “If you’re a big government person you want your citizenry docile and ignorant and unarmed.”
Cruz is hoping to bring religious and social conservatives together with pro-gun libertarians for a stronger-than-expected finish in New Hampshire’s primary on Feb. 9. He was returning to the state on Sunday to kick off a five-day, 17-stop bus tour.
His trademark anti-establishment pitch, filled with quotes from scripture and support from evangelical leaders, has thus far served the Texas senator well among conservatives in Iowa, where he’s locked in a narrow race with Donald Trump ahead of the Feb. 1 caucus.
But Cruz hopes to spark momentum with a strong start to the 2016 primary season, and he sees a lot at stake in New Hampshire, the nation’s second nominating contest.
The first-term senator’s backers say his message can consolidate enough conservative support to do well in New Hampshire, which tends to favor more moderate Republicans. As Trump surges ahead of his rivals in state polls, the rest of the GOP field is scrambling to grab whatever support remains.
“Often conservatives are just all over the place and they dissipate their strength by spreading it out across too many candidates,” said New Hampshire state Rep. Bill O’Brien, a state co-chair for Cruz.
While Cruz had a quick stopover in New Hampshire last week, more than two months have passed since his last visit. The senator instead has poured his time and resources into states like Iowa, where many observe his chance for a strong finish is more likely.
At a town hall meeting in Londonderry, New Hampshire, delivered the same night as President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, Cruz offered the audience his campaign pitch with the usual mix of confidence and bravado.
Cruz supporter Dan Gleason of Windham, New Hampshire, said Cruz stands out from the pack because of his apparent commitment to upholding the Constitution.
“He’s a real constitutional conservative, he’s the only one in my opinion,” Gleason said. “He’s not making stuff up as he goes; it’s consistent with everything he’s always said.”
In both Iowa and New Hampshire, Cruz draws cheers when he talks about plans to repeal Obama’s health care law, implement a flat tax, abolish the IRS and Education Department, build a wall along the Mexican border and eliminate cities that won’t cooperate with immigration investigators.
But in rural Iowa he often recites Scripture, telling stories about his daughters’ prayers and exhorting voters to pray for him and the country at least one minute a day before Feb. 1 caucus.
Cruz may try to tone that message down for New Hampshire’s generally more secular residents, but some of the state’s Christians say they hope Cruz’s message of faith will inspire voters.
“In the last election, there were so many … registered Republicans who are evangelicals who did not come out and vote,” said Andrew Dean, a New Hampshire pastor who leads a church of roughly 125 members.
Cruz’s New Hampshire campaign leaders come from the party’s most conservative wing and hold sway with the voters Cruz is trying to cultivate.
“We’ve always believed there is a coalition of conservatives we can put together here,” said Ethan Zorfas, Cruz’s New Hampshire state director.
Bauer reported from Madison, Wisconsin.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.