Calling New Hampshire "ground zero" in the upcoming midterm elections, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said Saturday the state is fertile ground for Republicans to wrest away control of the Senate from Democrats.
"Republicans are poised to win control of the Senate with roughly a dozen seats in serious contention," Cruz said in a phone interview prior to appearances at two fundraising events in the state this weekend. "And that includes Jeanne Shaheen's seat here in New Hampshire."
Cruz, a conservative Republican mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2016, appeared Saturday at the Carroll County Republican Committee Lincoln dinner in Bartlett and will be in Rye today at a fundraising event for the conservative advocacy group Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire. The events marked Cruz's third trip to the state in the past 16 months.
"I want to encourage activists in New Hampshire about the challenges facing this country and the need to turn this country around," he said.
Shaheen, D-N.H., is being challenged by several Republicans, including former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who moved to New Hampshire and recently announced his candidacy. He faces a primary election against former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith, former state Sen. Jim Rubens and activist and former gubernatorial candidate Karen Testerman.
Cruz said he has not endorsed any candidate in the Republican field and that he trusts "the grassroots voters in New Hampshire to make that determination."
Cruz has faced criticism in his home state for his travels to New Hampshire, site of the nation's first presidential primary, and other early presidential primary voting states. Early last week, the Associated Press noted that Cruz's visit on Monday to south Texas was just his second since taking office in January 2013. By contrast, in addition to his New Hampshire visits, he has been to Iowa, which hosts the nation's first primary caucus, four times and to South Carolina three times.
Cruz dismissed the report, saying it was "recycled" from leftist bloggers, and he noted that his travels in the last week also included trips to three cities in Texas, as well as stops in Oklahoma, Utah and Nebraska. He also didn't address any possible presidential aspirations, saying he is focused on 2014, not 2016.
"We're engaged in a national debate about the direction of this country," he said. "The only way to turn this country around is if the American people demand a different path.
"I certainly intend to continue traveling in Texas and traveling across the country making the case that the path we're on isn't working," he said.
Cruz attracted national attention and a horde of conservative fans after a 21-hour filibuster last September in a failed attempt to block funding for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. He also faced sharp rebuke from several GOP colleagues, most notably U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who did not accompany Cruz on his visits Saturday.
"You're right that some in Washington criticized our efforts to stop this train wreck," Cruz said.
But, he said, the Affordable Care Act has "been a disaster" featuring a difficult rollout of its enrollment website, people being forced from full-time to part-time employment and people's health insurance being altered or canceled to comply with the law, despite President Barack Obama's pledge that if people liked their health care plans, they could keep them.
"I would suggest that the proof is in the pudding. We elevated the national debate," he said. "Many Democrats have publicly said they're sorry. Indeed, President Obama apologized for 28 times saying a flat-out falsehood.
Cruz said he would repeal the Affordable Care Act and have a system where people could purchase insurance plans offered in other states. He said such a scenario would broaden competition and drive down prices.
"We need to make plans personal," he said. "The way to do so is through more choices and lower costs."