ORLANDO — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz electrified a crowd of conservative activists Saturday, calling for a public uprising to stop the federal health care law as he sounded and acted very much like a presidential candidate.
"Run, Ted, run! Run, Ted, run!" the audience chanted as the blunt-talking Texan concluded a more than 25-minute speech, the call for 2016 growing louder. Basking in the attention, Cruz joked, "I will confess that's the same thing my wife says when I come home from the gym early."
Cruz was the final top-name speaker of the two-day Americans for Prosperity "Defending the American Dream" conference and got the most enthusiastic reception, eclipsing other potential Republican presidential candidates such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who both spoke Friday.
When Cruz started to wrap up, saying, "I want to close," the crowd loudly voiced disapproval, urging him to say more.
His speech before some of the most ardent conservatives hit all the right notes: Obamacare, abolishing the IRS, lack of focus in Washington on job growth and what's wrong with the Common Core education standards, which drew some of the loudest boos of support.
While other speakers stood on the podium, Cruz paced around the expansive stage, looking very much like a candidate. "It has been career politicians in both parties who have gotten us in this mess," he said of the fiscal trouble in Washington.
Cruz kept returning to a theme that politicians aren't listening enough to the people, tapping into the sentiment that helped grow the tea party and put him in office in 2012: "On immigration, the president and Republicans and Democrats in Washington need to listen to the people."
(Mere mention of the Senate's immigration bill, which Rubio helped write, drew loud jeers.)
But nothing topped the enthusiasm for defunding the health care law.
The crowd stood in sustained applause when Cruz declared, "We need to repeal every single word of Obamacare." He has been spearheading a citizen petition against the law, saying about 970,000 people have signed, but in Washington the effort has little momentum.
"Right now the people who are fighting the hardest against our effort to defund Obamacare, sadly, are Republicans. Over and over and over again they say 'We can't win this fight.' You know what, you lose 100 percent of the fight that you surrender at the outset."
Earlier in the day, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who does not support the law but thinks the defunding effort will not work, was heckled during a talk.
Cruz took the stage right after President Barack Obama gave a nationally televised address on Syria, saying he would seek congressional approval for military strikes. Cruz told the crowd, which broke out in applause. Talking with reporters afterward, Cruz sounded skeptical of military engagement.
"In my view, U.S. military force is justified only to protect the vital, national security interests of the United States, and to date the administration has not focused on those interests, at least in its public effort to make the case. So I welcome this debate in Congress."