LINCOLN, N.H. — Ahead of his expected presidential campaign, Sen. Ted Cruz is banking on his hopes that rural New Hampshire voters and his home state of Texas share a similarly dour view of government.
He is promising to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and scrap the Education Department. He vows to curtail federal regulators, likening to locusts that deserve to be killed. And his standard campaign-style speech includes a zinger about the Second Amendment.
"I'm pretty sure, here in New Hampshire, y'all define gun control like we do down in Texas: gun control is when you hit what you aim at," Cruz said Sunday during the first of a two-day visit to New Hampshire.
It's all part of the pitch Cruz is making to rural voters, here in New Hampshire and in other early nominating states with vast stretches of farms and forests. All candidates make such efforts, and frequent stops at county fairs and farm stands will be a staple of campaign schedules by the time there are declared candidates.
Even before he becomes an official candidate, Cruz is crossing off one item on every contender's to-do list: make a visit to the sparsely populated northern one-third of the state called the North Country. The rural region is home to less than a tenth of the state's population and its economy struggles to survive.
But candidates — like would-be-aspirants like Cruz — ignore the region at their peril. While there are fewer voters here than in the populous southern tier of the state, they are vocal. Candidates cannot be perceived as writing off the North Country in favor of the southern region, which is home to newcomers from neighboring Massachusetts.
"We will probably have each and every one come through," Grafton County GOP chairman Bruce Perlo said of the candidates.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry visited last week, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and businesswoman Carly Fiorina have announced plans to head north, too.
If the trip and its messaging border on pandering, Cruz does not care.
"To value liberty and freedom above all else — live free or die," he said, channeling New Hampshire's state motto. "That sums up what it means to be an American."
For now, as Cruz is moving toward making official his White House ambitions, he is pitching himself as a Washington outsider and a conservative champion who would scrap federal departments and return control over schools to parents.
"A week ago, I was in Iowa. Yesterday, I was in South Carolina. Today I'm in New Hampshire," Cruz said.
Ahead of an official declaration, he is working to introduce himself to voters as someone who understands their frustrations.
"If you see a candidate who Washington embraces, run and hide," Cruz told party activists at this Grafton County GOP fundraiser.
Cruz's standard political speech is laced with such messages against government and tailoring it to the local crowds.
"We have seen over the last six years federal regulators descending on businesses like locusts. I was out once in West Texas and I said the only difference is you can't use pesticide on the regulators. And an old Texas farmer said to me: 'Want to bet?'" Cruz said. "I have got to admit: That kind of seems like an attitude that folks in the North Country could understand."
But Cruz is also taking away bits of his standard fare as he goes before more rural audiences.
When Cruz met with voters earlier in the day in the southern corner of the state, he talked about his Houston home in a high-rise condo building. Now 90 miles north, he was silent on the subject.
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