Ted Cruz tries to seize Rand Paul's libertarian mantle

Story highlights

  • Ted Cruz is making a play for Rand Paul's libertarian voters
  • "There are a whole bunch of areas that the federal government has no business sticking its nose in," Cruz said Wednesday

Goffstown, New Hampshire (CNN)Ted Cruz isn't in Iowa anymore.

Gone Wednesday morning was the vow to investigate Planned Parenthood. In was the punch line about the White House tapping your cell phone.
    The Texas senator, who barnstormed Iowa with a preacher's pitch that carried him to victory Monday, unveiled a new stump speech here that signaled a new profile he will try to build as a government-fearing, gun-hugging outsider who will protect New Hampshire from the evils of Washington.
    Making things easier Wednesday: Rand Paul quit the race.
    Winning libertarian voters has been a centerpiece of the New Hampshire strategy for Cruz, who has flirted with the GOP's libertarian views on foreign policy. Cruz has argued that he is the natural inheritor of the modern libertarian movement built by Ron Paul, which was especially resonant here in New Hampshire, where the elder Paul won second place four years ago. And now, with his son's decision to drop out, Cruz's best path to a strong showing in the bunched GOP field here could be to dominate -- no longer split -- that group of Republicans.
    "There are a whole bunch of areas that the federal government has no business sticking its nose in," Cruz said to hollers here in Hooksett. "I will fight every day for you, for your freedom, for your right to run a small business, for economic growth and for keeping government the heck off your back."
    Cruz's entreaties appear to be paying off. A number of state legislators -- in places ranging from here in New Hampshire to the Paul family's Texas -- signed onto the Cruz team.
    One major Republican megadonor, who had been one of the biggest backers of pro-Paul super PACs, Silicon Valley titan Scott Banister, pledged on Wednesday to Cruz as well -- though he said he has not yet decided to give to a Cruz super PAC.
    "I've interviewed Ted, and while we don't agree on every issue, I believe he's one of us," Banister said in an email to CNN, "and libertarians will discover that."
    Cruz's team at the outset of the campaign saw Paul as a top rival for libertarian-minded voters. But as Paul's campaign lagged amid poor fundraising and diminished national support, Cruz meticulously moved onto his turf, sharing libertarian-targeted videos before some Cruz rallies and working behind the scenes to poach several of the Paul family's most loyal activists.
    And on Wednesday, Cruz offered a new speech that seemed tailor-made for this state's Republican identity. The Texan still quoted Scripture, but his Christian messaging centered more on a federal lawsuit against a Catholic charity than it did in Iowa. He still called for American leadership in the world, but foreign policy on the whole was giving shorter shrift than it has been for months.
    "New England was meant to be the new England, the new land," he told the crowd in Henniker on Wednesday morning, "where we could come and be free and not have government dictate our faith, dictate our lives."
    And Cruz had several opportunities to appeal directly to the Paul family's network, and he appeared eager to do so. After Cruz finished a media availability here almost entirely about the latest attacks from Donald Trump, Cruz walked away -- but then in a rare display for the disciplined candidate, turned around and returned to reporters when asked a shouted question if he had any reaction to Rand's departure.
    "He and I have been side by side in a great many fights in the U.S. Senate, standing for liberty," Cruz told reporters. "They worked very, very hard."
    Cruz's new talking points across the southern part of the state on Wednesday scratched the five things he'd do on the first day in office -- moving to U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, looking into the controversial Planned Parenthood videos -- and instead emphasized a more Granite State-hued pitch: celebrating the Second Amendment, sounding the alarm on abuse of eminent domain.
    In a state like New Hampshire, Cruz's team is betting that pays off. His aides are increasingly optimistic about their fortunes in the state after his momentum from Iowa. But their broader New Hampshire goal -- to bury Marco Rubio beneath less well-funded candidates like John Kasich and Chris Christie -- has become a taller task after Rubio notched a stronger-than-expected third-place showing.
    But true libertarians say Cruz isn't dyed-in-the-wool enough. At a tavern here in Hillsborough County, Cruz received two separate questions from friends who identified as Rand Paul supporters until Wednesday morning -- and neither felt Cruz did enough to align himself with the movement.
    Leah Wolczko, a 49-year-old state employee, said Cruz was too hawkish on foreign policy and the use of military force by the president.
    "It's the militancy that gets my hesitation," she said, only concluding that Cruz's alignment with the movement was "okay."
    But he might be the best they've got. Ryan Milner, asked which presidential candidate might be better than Cruz for the movement, came up with a man whose time had passed: "Ron Paul."