By Alexandra Jaffe - 03/16/13 11:23 PM EDT
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asserted that the Republican Party is winning its fight on policy issues, and offered his vision for continued success in his closing speech at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
To continue to win, he said, the party needs to do two things:
"Number one: Defend the constitution. And number two, champion growth and opportunity," he said.
The potential 2016 contender followed a roster of conservative stars ranging from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to commentator Ann Coulter.
In his speech, the final one of the three-day gathering of conservative activists and leaders, Cruz offered plenty of specifics but few of the roaring applause lines that marked some of the best-received speeches at this year's conference.
And he came in seventh in the CPAC straw poll, partly due to the timing of his speech, which came long after the poll closed, but likely in part because he's not yet well-known in the conservative movement.
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Where Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) recent talking filibuster recently launched him to national prominence and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has been a central player in immigration talks for months, Cruz has not yet found a similar crusade.
That may explain why, in his speech, he leaned heavily on his opposition to President Obama's use of drones. The issue was the focal point of Paul's filibuster, but Cruz emphasized his support for Paul and his own work on drones.
In response to Obama's defense of his use of drones, Cruz asserted that the GOP doesn't trust Obama — and won't trust any president with that level of power.
"No we don't trust you, and we don't trust the next guy or the next guy or the next guy whether he's Democrat or Republican," he said, to cheers from the audience.
He also touched on his drive to repeal Obama's healthcare law, which received some of the loudest applause of his speech. The Senate voted on a measure backed by Cruz to repeal the law this week, but it failed on a party-line vote.
Cruz also argued for the elimination of the Department of Education, the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and an audit of the Federal Reserve in his speech, all policy prescriptions that played to the conservative base crowding the auditorium.
And he indicated he would like to expand his influence and profile, asking the crowd to text the word "growth" to a phone number that will help him compile contact information for supporters of his potential future political endeavors.
While he didn't spark the same level of enthusiasm as Sarah Palin, who spoke earlier Saturday and elicited perhaps the strongest crowd response of the conference, Cruz did have the crowd on their feet by the end of his speech.
"On guns, do we surrender or do we stand up now? On drones, do we surrender or do we stand up now? On spending, do we surrender or do we stand up now? On debt, do we surrender or do we stand up now? And on the Constitution, do we surrender or do we stand up now?" he said, as the crowd rose for an extended standing ovation.
After exiting the stage, Cruz was mobbed by a gaggle of enthusiastic supporters looking to shake the hand of their candidate.