COLUMBUS, Ohio – Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was the hands-down favorite of the Americans for Prosperity annual summit in Columbus, Ohio, this weekend, if the number and volume of ovations during the speeches of five presidential candidates who addressed the annual convention of tea party activists was the measure.
At the other end of the spectrum was former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a newcomer to events financed by conservative industrialists Charles and David Koch. Bush was attending his first national conference of Americans for Prosperity and was greeted with respectful but restrained applause by a group that rose essentially out of Republican dissatisfaction with federal spending under his brother, former President George W. Bush.
Cruz, a tea party favorite since his 2012 election, sparked deafening cheers in the Columbus Convention Center auditorium even before he took the stage, entering to the 1980s power anthem "Eye of the Tiger." During his speech Saturday, he went on to promise to "repeal every word of Obamacare," and" rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal."
Each of Cruz's lines was met with applause and cheers from the more than 3,000 activists. Bush, who spoke a day earlier, earned far fewer cheers, and mostly polite applause, from the anti-tax, economic conservative audience from around the country.
David White of Marietta, Ohio, was unimpressed with Bush.
"He did not articulate any plan for what he intends to do as president," said White, of southeastern Ohio. "He used his time to try and rearrange perception of his record in Florida."
Bush did stress his experience during eight years as Florida governor, noting tax cuts, reduction in the state government workforce and an overhaul in the state's education system.
Cruz, on the other hand, laid out an agenda that consisted entirely of undoing actions taken by Democratic President Barack Obama.
The event is significant because it's an opportunity for presidential candidates to impress the conservative group, which spent more than $30 million in advertising against Obama's re-election in 2012 and has activists, donors and organizers in 36 states and an operating budget for 2016 of roughly $125 million.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who can trace his 2010 Senate election to tea party support, received hearty cheers, but less robust than Cruz, while taking a more policy-focused approach than Cruz's more political speech.
"The first thing we must do is become globally competitive again," Rubio said, describing the fast-moving economy of the future. "That's why we talk about tax reform. That's why we talk about regulatory reform."
The two-day conference was also an opportunity for exposure for lesser-known candidates such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who rank low in national polls among the field of 17 candidates. The extra exposure could help them rise in national polls, which kept the two from participating in the Aug. 6 debate in Cleveland.
Jindal used much of his speech Friday afternoon to rail against political correctness that he says has diluted the meaning of being American.
Jindal's parents immigrated to the United States from India before he was born, and he rallied the vastly white crowd in Columbus to standing cheers with a call for assimilation.
"I am done with hyphenated Americans," Jindal said, using the term to describe African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans. "We're all Americans, united as one."
And while Perry was animated and emphatic, he was also the last speaker during the two-day conference. Attendees trying to make their flights home began leaving during Perry's speech, despite impassioned, patriotic rhetoric.
"America is in desperate need of leadership again," Perry said. "They're desperate for a president whose actions speak louder than his words."