Marco Rubio-Ted Cruz battle represents struggle over GOP's future
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Marco Rubio had just finished an event, impressing the room with his forward-looking message, and Steve Pena lingered among the crowd pressing the presidential candidate for a selfie.
"If he wins the primary, he'd get my vote. But right now, he's my second choice," said Pena, 56, who grew up in Tampa and now lives in this first-in-the-nation primary state, which votes Tuesday. "I'm a Ted Cruz man."
The attraction makes sense.
Cruz and Rubio are young senators, 45 and 44, Cuban-American, dynamic speakers and expert debaters. Cruz finished first in the Iowa caucuses, Rubio third. And they are competitive in New Hampshire.
But Cruz and Rubio could not be more different in message and tone. Deeper yet, they embody a party battle over the direction of the GOP, which is striving to find a winning formula in the face of changing national demographics.
Cruz, a preacher-like figure whose voice fires with emotion, is summoning a conservative movement around a message of destroying a "Washington cartel" that favors deal-making and compromise. His target audience is almost exclusively white.
Rubio, more persuader than crusader and aspirational in tone, speaks of expanding the party base to young people and those "living paycheck to paycheck."
He straddles the activist wing of the party and the establishment, raising suspicions among Cruz supporters.
"Initially he was a tea party man," Pena said of Rubio, who was elected to the U.S. Senate on the rise of conservative angst. "And then it seemed like right after he got in office, he switched."
"I've seen Cruz stand by himself when the media was against him," Pena went on, "when the Republican establishment was against him, when the Democrats were against him. And he didn't falter on principle. That's why I lean that way."Renee Turner, 57, a professor at Saint Anselm College where Rubio spoke Thursday, likes Cruz for similar reasons, saying the GOP has been "spineless" for too long.
"But there are limits," she said. "You have to be able to compromise. Otherwise you're not going to get anything done. America is about compromising. I think we can unite under Marco Rubio."
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