Ted Cruz dazzled them with his pugnacity, while Scott Walker impressed them with his battle-tested record.
At a summit of conservative activists that served as a starting line to next year’s Republican presidential caucuses here, the rabble-rousing Texas senator and the steady-handed Wisconsin governor distinguished themselves from a crowded line-up of ambitious politicians by delivering a pair of animated, meaty speeches.
Each man tailored distinct messages to achieve differing goals, but both won over the crowd.
Cruz, who already has established a reputation in Washington for fiery rhetoric, sounded a notably optimistic tone by professing to lead a coalition of those “who want to believe again in the miracle of America.” Yet he also appeared ready to fiercely challenge rivals who will attempt to claim the conservative mantle.
“One of the most important roles that the men and women in this room, the men and women in Iowa play, is to look each candidate in the eye and say, ‘Don’t talk. Show me. If you say you support liberty, show me when you stood up and fought for it,’” Cruz asserted.
Walker used the opportunity to introduce himself and boast about his resume of hard-fought political and legislative victories over public sector unions and other Democratic interests in the neighboring Badger State. He presented himself as a “fresh, bold and proven” leader in the Republican Party and did so with uncharacteristic vigor, ostensibly to squelch a wafting notion that he lacks charisma.
“We need to make the case that we’re going to promote policies that promote and support and defend hard work in this country once again,” Walker said.
This weekend’s inaugural Iowa Freedom Summit — organized by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and the conservative group Citizens United — featured speeches in a crammed downtown auditorium by as many as a dozen potential GOP presidential candidates. But it was Cruz and Walker who appeared to leave the most lasting mark with an audience of rock-ribbed conservatives. They awarded both men with repeated bursts of sustained applause.