SANDY — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told a cheering crowd of fellow Republicans Friday that the country can be turned around if they stand up for their liberties against what he called the "lawlessness" of the Obama administration.
As Cruz cited President Barack Obama's actions to delay enforcement of provisions of his signature health care law, there were repeated cries of "impeachment" from those gathered for the United in Utah GOP rally at the South Towne Expo Center.
Widely seen as a candidate for president in 2016, Cruz said he is "incredibly optimistic" about the future of the United States even as he hears fears expressed about the future in his travels around the country.
He predicted Republicans will retake the U.S. Senate and promised 2016 will be "even better."
Cruz praised fellow tea party supporter Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, calling him a "rock star" and one of the strongest and most passionate defenders of liberty in Washington, D.C.
Lee, who received one of the biggest cheers of the evening, said God had given Americans their rights, "but Washington is trying to take them way. And we're taking them back."
Lee, who joined Cruz to lead a fight against the Affordable Care Act last year that led to a federal government shutdown, stood before a giant American flag and urged the audience to fight efforts to limit their freedom.
Utah's junior senator also asked the hall of Republicans to support his re-election bid in 2016. Some in Washington, Lee said, including members of both political parties, don't like those who "push back" against the establishment.
Gov. Gary Herbert also offered a message of limited federal government, telling the crowd, "in Utah, we’re not going to wait for the federal government. We're going to lead ourselves as Utahns."
Mia Love, running again for the 4th District seat in Congress now held by Rep. Jim Matheson, who is not seeking re-election, got a standing ovation after telling the crowd, "we are not going away, and we are going to take our country back."
Love, who nearly beat Matheson in 2012, faces a challenge for the GOP nomination at Saturday's convention from retired businessman Bob Fuehr. Fuehr was not invited to speak at the rally.
Fuehr said in a statement “state delegates and primary voters should be offended by (the) establishment’s attempt to try and pick the candidate." Political parties usually avoid the appearance of endorsing candidates in intra-party races.
The rally continued long past the scheduled 9 p.m. finish, with singers and dancers filling the time until Cruz and Lee arrived. At one point, Attorney General Sean Reyes briefly joined American Samoan dancers in their performance.
Earlier Friday, at a GOP fundraising dinner also held at the Expo Center, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the GOP needs to do more than just put candidates on the ballot.
"We also need to have a party that understands what its job is," Priebus said.
That means not repeating 2012's grueling presidential primary and debate schedule seen as damaging to eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney, he said.
"It's a joke and has to be stopped," Priebus said. "We've got to be a party that knows how to run a presidential election. We've got to chew gum and walk at the same time."
Priebus later said at the rally that moving the GOP nominating convention in 2016 and controlling presidential debates are "not an establishment takeover. This is what a party does," a comment that appeared to be aimed at tea party supporters.
Several hundred people attended the dinner, which started late and did not feature Cruz as scheduled because the Texas senator had to leave for another speaking engagement at a Sutherland Institute event in Salt Lake City.
The dinner and rally capped off a two-day Western Republican Leadership Conference that drew party leaders from surrounding states to discuss topics including how to attract more minority and women voters.
At the dinner, ballots for a 2016 presidential straw poll were distributed. Cruz topped the poll with 39 percent of the vote.
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