In Iowa's presidential testing ground, Ted Cruz echoes – who else? – Ronald Reagan

Tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz is best known for fighting Obamacare. Speaking in Iowa, where presidential hopefuls come early and often, Cruz focused on the economy and the legacy of GOP champion Ronald Reagan.

Scott Morgan/AP
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaks Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, during the Republican Party of Iowa's Reagan Dinner at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa.

Known chiefly for his much-publicized fights against a mushrooming federal debt and health insurance mandates, Sen. Ted Cruz has sounded a new call to arms, urging fellow Republicans to work on growing the economy.

Speaking at the Iowa Republican Party’s annual Ronald Reagan commemorative dinner – the trolling ground for potential presidential candidates – the Tea Party stalwart from Texas said economic prosperity is the answer to what he called a fiscal and economic crisis that the nation faces.

“If we don’t have growth, we can’t achieve anything,” he told the crowd.

Harkening back to the days and ideals of Ronald Reagan, Cruz said that the former president cut taxes, reined in the expansion of federal spending and restrained federal regulators. By the fourth year of Reagan’s presidency, Cruz noted that the nation’s Gross Domestic Product shot up 7.2 percent – a far cry from the .3 percent decline in 1980 when Jimmy Carter occupied the White House.

These days, US economic gains remain timid, with GDP rising by 2.2 percent in 2012 and joblessness stubbornly clinging to lofty levels. The way Cruz looks at it, this is just proof that President Barack Obama’s “economic engine does not work,” and instead is just running the country deeper and deeper into the red.

“What we are doing now is fundamentally immoral” by way of a $17 trillion dollar federal debt that he is fighting to curb, he said.

The way to turn the country around is to strengthen it economically – with Republicans at the helm.

“Growth and freedom are principles and ideals that unify [Republicans],” Cruz said.

In preliminary remarks, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, also a Republican, echoed Cruz by pointing to states such as Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin where Republican governors have set the stage for strong economic recoveries. And Sen. Charles Grassley, (R) of Iowa, welcomed Cruz by likewise noting that it’s up to Republicans to promote free markets, limited government and personal responsibility.

Economics aside, Cruz found plenty of time to discuss his efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” He first warmed up the audience of 600 by promising at the outset that he did not plan to talk for 21 hours – the amount of time he spent Sept. 24-25 filibustering on the Senate floor against Obamacare.

“Twenty one hours is a long time,” he said. “That’s about as long as it takes to sign up on the Obamacare website.”

While he was not able to accomplish his ultimate goal, Cruz claimed that “we illustrated what a mess the Affordable Care Act is” as it websites continues to experience difficulties.

Cruz and his cohorts energized the opposition to Obamacare, he said, and they further demonstrated that grass roots efforts by ordinary citizens can influence the power brokers in Washington. Their rising has made an impact on Obamacare, he said, and likewise has re-shaped the national debate on gun control, amnesty for immigrants, and possible US involvement in Syria’s civil war.

“The way we’re going to stop Obamacare, the way we’re going to get back to growth, is not going to come from Washington,” said Cruz.

It may come from places like Stillwater, Okla., where Janet Barringer lives. She was visiting Iowa and decided to drop in on the GOP dinner, and said she came away quite impressed by Cruz.

“I think he’s a force to be reckoned with, and he bears watching,” said Ms. Barringer.

Both Barringer and Betsy Sigler, a pediatrician from West Des Moines who also attended, said they admired Cruz for his integrity and sticking to his guns in the debt-limit debate that kicked off the Obamacare defunding attempts.

“He’s standing up for beliefs that are popular,” said Sigler. And she said she already has witnessed some negative side effects from the Affordable Care Act, such as less pay for health care workers.

Jeff Bauer, a law school student at Drake University in Des Moines, said it’s too early to say whether the debt limit debate will have any impact in November 2014 elections. At present, he said it’s enough to focus on the problems that Obama administration is having launching its health insurance website.

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