Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) may have won the straw poll, but runner-up Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) won the biggest endorsement on the final night of the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the closing speaker at the three-day gathering of activists, touted Cruz and urged conservatives to challenge the GOP’s inside-the-beltway establishment.
Cruz, who was elected to the Senate after beating Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — the candidate favored in 2012 by the GOP establishment — has said he would not be in Congress were it not for Palin’s help.
The GOP's 2008 vice presidential nominee did not formally endorse the freshmen senator who is widely believed to be exploring a White House bid. But she lavishly praised his aggressive tactics, which have angered many colleagues in the Senate Republican Conference.
“Last year something did happen. The awaking began and Sen. Ted Cruz helped keep them awake. His filibuster, it worked in waking people up to the folly of a government takeover over another one sixth of our economy,” she said. “He forced debate.”
Cruz’s all-night filibuster in late September protesting the implementation of the Affordable Care Act helped galvanize a conservative backlash that led to a 16-day government shutdown.
Republicans such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) were furious over Cruz’s role in the debate. The senior Arizona senator and other colleagues bashed Cruz for provoking a standoff with President Obama without having a clear exit strategy.
Cruz in turn blamed fellow Senate Republicans for not backing up House conservatives who refused to adopt a government funding resolution that allowed the implementation of the healthcare law to proceed.
Palin backed up Cruz’s version of events.
“He told his colleagues it was time, time to stand up, time to use the tools of the Constitution, the power of the purse to fulfill their campaign promises and to stop ObamaCare,” she said. “But our army balked. We hoped they were just reloading but instead they retreated.
“Worse, they joined the lapdogs in the lame-stream to trash the foot soldiers who fought for America,” she added.
Palin extolled Cruz’s memorable reading of Dr. Seuss’s classic work of children’s literature, “Green Eggs and Ham,” during his 21-hour filibuster on the Senate floor.
She recited a modified version of the story to mock Obama’s effort to overhaul the nation’s healthcare laws.
“I do not like this Uncle Sam, I do not like his healthcare scam,” she said before being interrupted by wild applause.
“I do not like these dirty crooks or how they lie and cook the books,” she continued to boisterous laughter. [WATCH VIDEO]
Overall it was a good night for Cruz, who earned 11 percent of the vote in CPAC’s straw poll. Only Paul who also won last year, outpaced him with 31 percent.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie finished in fourth place behind neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Carson earned 9 percent while Christie collected 8.
Cruz found himself in the Senate GOP conference’s doghouse again recently after colleagues learned he signed a fundraising mailer for the Madison Project, which is trying to knock off Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky’s Senate primary.
Palin urged conservative activists to elect more candidates in the mold of Cruz and his comrade in arms, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), whom she called the "good guys."
“They need their reinforcements because, you see, families are hurting today,” she said.
She fired a shot at GOP leaders who have warned conservative groups not to pressure Senate and House Republican incumbents.
“GOP Beltway boys, you know that 2010 election victory that swept you into power, you didn’t build that. The Tea Party did,” she said to loud applause.
Despite browbeating from colleagues such as McCain and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Cruz has refused to promise to stay out of primaries.
"What I have said is that I'm likely going to stay out of incumbent Republican primaries," he said last month. "I haven't put that in concrete."