DALLAS (AP) — Republican Sen. Ted Cruz sounds increasingly like he's made up his mind to run for president in 2016, telling an influential gathering of conservative activists Saturday that "we are part of a grass-roots fire that is sweeping this country."
The tea party-backed Texan's rousing speech was interrupted by a half-dozen standing ovations at a summit in Dallas of Americans for Prosperity, a political group backed by billionaire GOP donors Charles and David Koch.
"I'm convinced we're going to win in 2014, and 2016 is going to be even better," Cruz said as he strutted around a makeshift stage in a packed hotel ballroom. "And in the year 2017, a Republican president in the Rose Garden is going to sign a bill repealing every word of Obamacare."
His remarks came a day after two other possible 2016 presidential hopefuls, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, gave speeches at the forum, hitting hard at similar issues. But the crowd was most fired up about Cruz, who helped force a partial government shutdown last year in an effort to defund the White House's signature health care law — and whose other troublemaking congressional tactics have enraged top leaders in both parties but made him a superstar with the GOP's conservative base.
"Each of you are here because we are part of a grass-roots fire that is sweeping this country," Cruz told a crowd that organizers said exceeded 3,000. "We are building an army."
Fellow Texan Perry has criticized President Barack Obama for attending recent fundraising events in Dallas and Austin but bypassing invitations to tour the Texas-Mexico border amid an influx of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children pouring into the U.S.
Cruz has similarly criticized the president, and even joked on Saturday about inviting Obama to the border himself.
"I figured out the only way there is a chance in heaven he might come — I'm inviting him to come to a golf course," Cruz said, a reference to the president's recent outings during vacation.
And, like Perry and Paul at the Dallas summit Friday, Cruz seized on Obama's comment earlier this week that "we don't have a strategy yet" for combating Islamic State militants. Cruz, who has previously suggested he'd favor a smaller U.S. military footprint overseas, nonetheless told the crowd that the group "says they want to go back and reject modernity. Well, I think we should help them. We ought to bomb them back to the Stone Age."
Debbie Harris, an attendee from Melba, Idaho, compared the event to an energetic concert. She said of Cruz: "I hope he runs. I'd vote for him."
Perry, meanwhile, has made no secret that he's strongly considering a second White House run after his 2012 bid fizzled. Paul similarly has done little to tamp down speculation he could run, and the Americans for Prosperity summit also featured Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, who also has been mentioned as a possible future presidential candidate.
Cruz has never ruled out a presidential run, saying "time will tell." In comments to reporters after his speech Saturday, the senator ignored direct questions about a presidential run, but, as he has done in the past, drew a parallel to that upcoming election and Ronald Reagan's in 1980.
"I think where we are today is uncannily like the late 1970s," he said, adding that frustration with Obama is "going to produce new leadership in the Republican party" that he said would restore a focus on America's founding values.
When attendees Saturday cried out, "Run, Ted, Run!" he offered a quip: "Oddly enough, that's the same thing my wife, Heidi, says to me when I go to the gym."
Still, Cruz's message of grass-roots conservative insurgency didn't impress everyone. Tim Skow, visiting from Nashville, Tennessee, worried that Cruz's starring role in the government shutdown could have weakened the Republican brand nationally.
"Senator Cruz was inspiration, but I thought Perry hit it out of the park," Skow said. "If he's as good in debates as he was on stage yesterday, he's going to be a force to be reckoned with."