Cruz, Jindal shine as Paul fades
© Getty Images and Greg Nash

It was Ted CruzTed CruzSenate passes dozens of bills on way out of town Senate passes stopgap funding bill, averting shutdown Senate advances funding measure, avoiding shutdown MORE's party at the Values Voters Summit in Washington on Friday.

The Texas Republican senator began the event with a deeply religious and emotional speech, pacing the stage and speaking with the cadence of a preacher, repeatedly rallying the crowd to its feet and jumping into an eager throng of supporters after his address.

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But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal emerged as a surprising star of the conference with an alternately fiery and funny address to the crowd Friday evening, which brought them to their feet for a standing ovation with his closing declaration that “we are ready for a hostile takeover.”

Crowds seemed far more skeptical of Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulTrump stumps for Louisiana Senate candidate ahead of runoff Giuliani won't serve in Trump administration Will justice in America be Trumped? MORE (R-Ky.), who spoke just after Cruz. While they warmly welcomed Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), he responded with a lecturing speech that earned few applause.

Paul tried to make a case for how his libertarian ideals would mesh with their religious fervor. But his reception to the faithful was tepid, with many skeptical of his seemingly ambivalent comments on abortion earlier this year despite his focus on the issue during Friday's speech.

Jindal likely put himself on the map with his warmly-received speech that wove his personal story together with conservative red meat and witty jokes and jabs at Obama. 

Though he polls in the bottom three of most surveys of the potential GOP presidential field, it seemed clear on Friday that Jindal would make an aggressive candidate if he runs, and would find considerable support among the GOP’s social conservative base.

Prior to Jindal’s address, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins praised all the potential candidates, but said Cruz got people excited because of his blunt style.

“At the heart what they are looking for is leaders who will say what they mean and mean what they say. They’re not looking for nuanced speeches. I think that’s why Ted Cruz gets such a strong reception — he just says it like it is. He doesn’t kind of shuck and jive, he says what he means," he told The Hill. 

Cruz delivered a speech that veered from the emotional to the fiery, running from his family's own struggles when his father briefly left to the persecution of Christians abroad. He drew standing ovations when he called on the crowd to "vote Harry ReidHarry ReidReid: Comey should be investigated in wake of Russia report Spokesman: NY Times ignored Reid's comments in pre-election story on Russia Senate passes dozens of bills on way out of town MORE out" and when he said when a Republican wins the White House in 2017, (drawing yells of "you, you" from the crowd), the party would repeal “every word of ObamaCare.”

Paul sought to merge his libertarian-leaning philosophy with social conservative beliefs on Friday, telling the religious crowd at the summit that the two go hand-in-hand and calling for a religious "revival" in the U.S.

"Where there is liberty there is always plenty of space for God," Paul concluded at the end of a speech at times punchy and professorial.

Paul drew applause when he said President Obama "acts like a king" and effectively worked the crowd's fury at oppression of Christians abroad, saying that until Asia Bibi, a Christian sitting in prison in Pakistan, "is freed, Pakistan should not receive a penny of U.S. aid."

But he avoided gay marriage, and while he sought to assure the social conservatives he was with them on abortion, the way he framed it leaves question marks for the movement, especially after comments this spring on Roe v. Wade that many read as ambivalent.

"The debate isn't really about whether government has a role in protecting life. The debate really hinges on when life begins," the ophthalmologist told the crowd. "Don't tell me that 5- and 6-pound babies have no rights simply because they're not yet born."

Perkins admitted that Paul isn't fully trusted by the movement, though he said it was clear Paul was looking to "bolster those credentials" on opposition to abortion with his opening video focused on the issue.

"His needle points more toward the libertarian viewpoint. There is a skepticism of libertarianism," he said.

Santorum, who placed second in the 2012 GOP presidential primary with the help of social conservatives, received standing ovations when he arrived and departed, but for much of his speech the room was dead silent, a stark contract to Cruz and Jindal’s receptions. 

The Pennsylvania former senator delivered a somber and hectoring speech focused on "existential threats" from the Middle East and a push to keep the GOP from abandoning social issues like gay marriage and abortion. 

"Quit being scared and start being activists and making things happen in America," he said in one of the few lines of the speech that drew applause. "Do something." 

Santorum received standing ovations at the beginning and end of his speech. 

Jindal offered both an indictment of the Obama administration, which he said doesn’t stand up for religious liberty and has made “America not only weaker but the world a more dangerous place,” and a vision for rejuvenating the American Dream “that my parents taught me.”

He described that as an “America where we are forever young, an America where our best days are ahead of us, not behind us, an America where circumstances of your birth don’t determine your outcomes as an adult, where we’re not guaranteed equal outcomes, we’re guaranteed equal opportunity.”

Perkins said Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), who spoke Friday evening, often gets the same type of response; the evangelical leader said the social conservative movement is “just looking for somebody who’s going to speak the truth and not make apologies for their conservative views.”

Huckabee held his own in the evening session, mixing folksy humor and his Baptist preacher background to slam Obama's foreign policy — and by extension, Clinton's.

He keyed off former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonJewish groups divided over Hanukkah party at Trump hotel Colo. AG: Electoral College lawsuit could cause 'chaos' Spokesman: NY Times ignored Reid's comments in pre-election story on Russia MORE's 2008 campaign ad featuring a ringing phone at 3:00 a.m. to argue that Obama isn't answering the call of the presidency.

"I think we know who we don't want to answer it," he said to laughs and claps from the crowd.

"On Sept. 11 two years ago the phone did ring and I guess it went to voicemail because when the desperate calls for help came from Benghazi, Libya, nobody answered that call," he said. "And today the phone's still ringing. The phone is ringing in Syria where ISIS has set up shop."

Cruz will need to eat into Huckabee's base if both run. The former Arkansas governor has led preliminary polls in early-voting Iowa, driven by his strong appeal to evangelical Christians in a state he won in 2008, while Cruz has lagged behind.

This post was updated at 9:16 p.m.