A small throng of GOP presidential contenders descended upon South Carolina this weekend as some of the state’s most involved Republican activists gathered in Columbia for their party’s convention.
White House hopefuls took the stage Saturday to give speeches that focused heavily on foreign policy – a big issue for a state that has eight military installations.
But it was Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz, also of Texas, who garnered the most enthusiastic responses from the crowd with fiery performances railing against the Obama administration and laying out their visions for the future.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham also made their case for their likely presidential bids.
Perry, who is expected to make a second bid for the White House after flaming out early during the 2012 primaries, fired up the audience when forcefully defending Second Amendment rights. He got perhaps the biggest applause of the day when he said “the best defense against crime is an armed citizen.”
On foreign policy, the former governor signaled he would take a more forceful approach than the current administration. For his own record, Perry pointed to his decision to put National Guard troops at the U.S.-Mexico border last year and hounded the federal government for failing to control the border.
He also talked up his time as governor for 14 years, driving home a point he’s been making on the trail that voters will ultimately choose someone with executive experience – a knock against the three first-term senators, including Cruz, who are running for president.
“2016 isn’t going to be an election about whoever’s got the loftiest rhetoric,” he said. “Folks are going to look past at what people are saying and look at what you’ve done.”
Alan Morgan, third vice chairman in the Greenville County GOP, said Perry’s attempt at a second chance may be able to help the former governor’s image, but he argued it’s too early to tell whether Perry will be able “to totally erase” his history as a poor debater in 2012.
In his speech, Cruz blasted President Barack Obama for not calling out “radical Islamic terrorism” by name and got a standing ovation for saying the administration has demonstrated “shameful hostility” to Israel.
He also focused on religious freedom in regard to the controversial law in Indiana that was tweaked after critics accused it of being discriminatory against same-sex couples. “I will not flinch from defending religious liberty,” he said.
An expert debater known for his oratory skills, Cruz typically gets strong reviews from audience members at Republican cattle calls in early voting states. And while events like the convention on Saturday provide a sense of how the candidates are being perceived, they generally comprise a more conservative audience than the general Republican electorate.
Bush used the event to introduce himself and tout conservative moves he made as a two-term governor. He also called for a more engaged foreign policy and dished out some red meat lines attacking Hillary Clinton.
“She had her fingerprint on all these foreign policy disasters,” Bush said after listing what he considered bad decisions by the Obama administration.
Santorum also went big on national defense and decried the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, saying the first thing he’d do if president is “take any agreement with Iran and put it in the trash can.”
He also said Islamic terrorists – namely ISIS – are trying to return the Middle East to “7th Century Islam.”
“So let’s bomb them back to the 7th Century,” he added.
Graham seized on the recent protests and riots in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, saying Republicans can turn big cities around by “shutting down failing schools and replacing it with something that works.”
“I see a Republican Party giving people in Baltimore and nearly every other big city hope like they haven’t seen in past eight years,” he added.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has said his decision to run for the Republican nomination will be based on two things: his family and whether he can lift America's spirit. His father and brother are former Presidents.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has created a political committee that will help him travel and raise money while he considers a 2016 bid. Additionally, billionaire businessman David Koch said in a private gathering in Manhattan this month that he wants Walker to be the next president, but he doesn't plan to back anyone in the primaries.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is establishing a committee to formally explore a White House bid. "If I run, my candidacy will be based on the idea that the American people are ready to try a dramatically different direction," he said in a news release provided to CNN on Monday, May 18.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, has said the United States needs a "political revolution" of working-class Americans looking to take back control of the government from billionaires. He first announced the run in an email to supporters early on the morning of Thursday, April 30.
On March 2, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson announced the launch of an exploratory committee. The move will allow him to raise money that could eventually be transferred to an official presidential campaign and indicates he is on track with stated plans to formally announce a bid in May.
Hillary Clinton launched her presidential bid Sunday, April 12, through a video message on social media. She continues to be considered the overwhelming front-runner among possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidates.
Sen. Marco Rubio announced his bid for the 2016 presidency on Monday, April 13, a day after Hillary Clinton, with a rally in Florida. He's a Republican rising star from Florida who swept into office in 2010 on the back of tea party fervor. But his support of comprehensive immigration reform, which passed the Senate but has stalled in the House, has led some in his party to sour on his prospects.
Lincoln Chafee, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat former governor and senator of Rhode Island, said he's running for president on Thursday, April 16, as a Democrat, but his spokeswoman said the campaign is still in the presidential exploratory committee stages.
Vice President Joe Biden has twice before made unsuccessful bids for the Oval Office -- in 1988 and 2008. A former senator known for his foreign policy and national security expertise, Biden made the rounds on the morning shows recently and said he thinks he'd "make a good President."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has started a series of town halls in New Hampshire to test the presidential waters, becoming more comfortable talking about national issues and staking out positions on hot topic debates.
Sen. Rand Paul officially announced his presidential bid on Tuesday, April 7, at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky. The tea party favorite probably will have to address previous controversies that include comments on civil rights, a plagiarism allegation and his assertion that the top NSA official lied to Congress about surveillance.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz announced his 2016 presidential bid on Monday, March 23, in a speech at Liberty University. The first-term Republican and tea party darling is considered a gifted orator and smart politician. He is best known in the Senate for his marathon filibuster over defunding Obamacare.
Democrat Martin O'Malley, the former Maryland governor, released a "buzzy" political video in November 2013 in tandem with visits to New Hampshire. He also headlined a Democratic Party event in South Carolina, which holds the first Southern primary.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a social conservative, gave Mitt Romney his toughest challenge in the nomination fight last time out and has made trips recently to early voting states, including Iowa and South Carolina.