Cruz, Paul, Rubio fight for 2016

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The Senate’s trio of GOP presidential hopefuls are looking for ways to stay in the national spotlight during the mid-year lull before November.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) are emphasizing different themes this month, each aimed at different slices of the Republican primary electorate.

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Their colleagues are beginning to look outside the Senate at governors and former governors as the most promising candidates to nominate for the White House in 2016. Senior GOP senators say Republicans from outside the Beltway are more electable.  

Of the three, Cruz has positioned himself as the most explicitly critical of President Obama, zeroing in on appealing to the party’s conservative base.

He released a report this past week highlighting what he called the Obama administration’s “lawlessness” and “abuse of power.”

The 76 points include what Cruz terms the administration’s “false portrayal about events in Benghazi,” his “disregard” of drug, welfare and marriage laws, and the exemptions and waivers to ObamaCare granted by the president.

“Ted Cruz going right for the red meat,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.  “If he can at least lock up the base, he could stay around for a while in a primary” where “base voters turn out the most.” 

In contrast, Paul is striving to present himself as the Senate’s chief defender of the Bill of Rights, a mantle that excites the GOP’s libertarian wing. This tack also appeals to independents and even some Democrats who prioritize civil liberties. 

Paul is planning an offensive on the Senate floor next week against David Barron, Obama’s nominee to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, a former Justice Department lawyer who crafted the legal rationale for targeting Americans overseas with drones.

The Kentuckian plans to publish op-eds next week on Obama’s drone policy and deliver a floor speech on the subject, reminiscent of his famed filibuster last year on the issue. 

“This is a proxy fight on the Bill of Rights, on Rand’s core values of protecting the Fifth Amendment rights and the Sixth Amendment rights,” said a Senate aide familiar with Paul’s agenda.

Paul believes the Obama administration’s decision to kill several American citizens overseas without trial violated constitutional guarantees that a citizen may not be deprived of life or liberty without due process of law and must receive a speedy and impartial trial by jury if accused of a crime.

Paul informed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday that he would also oppose tax treaties that allow the Internal Revenue Service to collect more information on American banking accounts held abroad.

The senator also worries a pending treaty with Switzerland tramples on the Fourth Amendment right to privacy and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.

“Sen. Paul has been trying to thread the needle between the libertarian and establishment wings of the Republican Party while Cruz has been steadfast in trying to drive the base,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist and former Senate leadership aide.

Paul is also trying to reach out to African-American voters, traditionally a loyal constituency of the Democratic Party, telling The New York Times Friday that the GOP’s push for stricter voter ID laws has alienated and insulted black voters. 

Meanwhile, Rubio will try to make a splash next week with a major speech Tuesday at the National Press Club on retirement security reform.

He will propose new changes to strengthen entitlement programs, make it easier for younger generations to save for retirement and allow people to work beyond the traditional retirement age of 65.

A report released in January by the Center for American Progress, a Democratic-allied think tank, concluded that Americans are “deeply concerned” about retirement security and want policymakers to make it a higher priority.

Rubio earlier this year outlined major reforms to federal poverty programs and higher education in a bid to establish himself as a candidate who can compete for more populist voters against likely Democratic nominee Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

“Because of his ability to raise money and because of his charisma, he’s trying to market himself as a general election candidate. Many of the establishment folks trip and fall and many of the conservatives aren’t going to be able to get beyond the base,” said O’Connell.

GOP strategists say Cruz and Rubio must find new ways to stay in the spotlight as ObamaCare and immigration reform, their respective signature issues, have faded in public conversation this spring. 

“They will try to get political attention where they can but there’s nothing that is as potent as ObamaCare was in the past or as immigration was in the past or will be if brought up again this year,” said John Ullyot, a Republican strategist and former Senate aide.

Cruz became a darling of conservative activists by leading a stand against the implementation of ObamaCare in the fall, which prompted a 16-day government shutdown. Since then, he has conspicuously been less at the center of attention.

“Clearly ObamaCare is fading as more and more people sign up and it’s less of a political hot potato than it was last fall,” said Ullyot. “We’re in a fallow period.”

Media interest in healthcare waned after its enrollment deadline passed and the president exceeded his goal of signing up 6 million people through the health insurance exchanges. 

Cruz’s recent report on the Obama’s selective enforcement of the law discusses ten examples of the administration granting waivers and delaying requirements for the Affordable Care Act. But it also focuses on national security, foreign policy, the economy and executive nominees.

Rubio has put far less emphasis on immigration reform in 2014 than he did last year after his support of a comprehensive Senate bill spurred a backlash from conservative voters. Instead, he has focused on applying conservative economic principles to stagnating wages and joblessness in the United States.

“Republicans jockeying for the 2016 primary are trying to find other issues to showcase their conservative ideals,” said Bonjean. “So you see Cruz, Paul and Rubio living off the land in finding issues to drive in the media now that ObamaCare seems to be a little bit less intense.”