One of those newer faces is freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), who fueled speculation about his own ambitions by speaking Friday at the state party’s annual Silver Elephant Dinner. Pacing the stage like a televangelist, he earned loud applause by discounting his Harvard Law education, joking about the missteps of Vice President Biden and blasting Obama for his health-care law and the Justice Department’s botched Fast and Furious gun-running operation.
Clearly wooing the home-state crowd, Cruz recounted the stories of William Travis and James Bonham, two South Carolina-born officers who led the ill-fated Battle of the Alamo.
“Thank you for the support South Carolina has given, then and now, as we fight side by side,” he said.
By Saturday morning, however, several people said Cruz should wait.
“He’s only been in office about five months,” said Randall Wallace of Myrtle Beach. “I feel like you have to have some experience before you go after the top job.”
Jumping into the 2016 race would mean Cruz is “trying to replicate Barack Obama,” said Peggy Geraghty of Hilton Head Island, S.C. “I never agreed with Obama going for president so soon.”
Geraghty said she’s more interested in Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), but worries he might not have broad appeal. As for Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), another name often mentioned for president, she said she’ll reserve judgment, but added: “He does have sparkle, so if you have to have the sparkle, I suppose he’d be good.”
Still reminiscing about last year’s GOP losses, Samantha Rogers of Bishopville suggested that Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), a former vice-presidential contender, should give it a go: “I actually enjoyed him more than Romney,” she said. “I like the values that he pushed.”
Even Graham acknowledged the party’s shifting demographics in his speech, referring to himself as “a little, short, white guy” in a crowd of rising stars, including the state’s 41-year-old governor, Nikki Haley, an Indian American, and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), 47, one of two African Americans in the U.S. Senate.
As Graham concluded, he made another bid to satisfy his critics: “The only thing I’m good at is being me.”
“I don’t believe enough in myself to think that I’m always right and that anyone who disagrees with me is always wrong,” he added. “But I do believe, and I owe it to you, my party and my country to be honest: We need to regroup, rethink and come out anew with a conservative message that will allow this party to grow.”
Most of the crowd rose to its feet and cheered, but about 100 people sat quietly in a dark, back corner of the room, still unimpressed by what they had heard.
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