HENNIKER, N.H. -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) spoke at a college on a rainy morning here and briefly played professor, weaving a regional history lesson into his pitch to New Hampshire voters.
"New England," Cruz said, hearkening back to colonial times, "was meant to be the new England, the new land, where we were meant to be free and not have government dictate our faith, dictate our lives."
Fresh off his win in the Iowa caucuses, Cruz has retooled his entreaty to voters here in New Hampshire, whose electorate is more flinty and independent-minded than Iowa's deeply religious one. Cruz is applying his same basic message of unbending conservatism rooted in a deep religious faith, but is giving it a more libertarian bent, stressing individual liberties, the Second Amendment and government keeping out of people's lives.
Cruz is dropping references to Dunkin' Donuts, a chain that occupies a large portion of the New England psyche, and the New England Patriots. On a swing here last month he repeatedly did an impression of John F. Kennedy. He is even increasing the seemingly endless number of times he mentions Ronald Reagan, reminding audiences that the state backed Reagan, despite "all of the media saying this guy is too far to the right, he’s too conservative," Cruz told an audience in Nashua, N.H. It is, Cruz said, a way to show that the state should embrace him, too.
"In Iowa you’ve got more evangelicals. In New Hampshire you have more libertarians," Cruz told reporters on his plane as it traveled from Greenville, S.C., to Manchester, N.H. "That’s why I talk about the Reagan coalition so often. Most candidates are either conservatives who can compete in Iowa or moderates who can compete in New Hampshire. Usually you can’t do both."
But Cruz believes he can. He has spent months attempting to siphon support from Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and pounced when the libertarian-leaning senator dropped out of the presidential race this week.
"I am asking for your support," he told a Paul supporter casting about for a new candidate in Goffstown, N.H. "I can tell you this: I have spent literally my entire adult life fighting to defend the Constitution. It has been my lifelong commitment."
Whether Cruz's libertarian gambit works or not remains to be seen. Paul's father, Ron, said this week that Cruz is a "fake libertarian" and urged libertarians not to vote for the Texas senator. One of Cruz's New Hampshire co-chairs, former state senator Bill O'Brien, said he has been urging a number of Paul supporters to back Cruz.
Cruz's campaign has said it doesn't expect to win New Hampshire, but rather to exceed expectations here.
"Part of the reason we’re more competitive in New Hampshire than a typical conservative is we’ve got enough support on the libertarian side that it backfills. That’s fairly unusual," Cruz said. "It will be interesting to see how Iowa impacts New Hampshire."
Cruz has also been bringing up eminent domain in New Hampshire, a state where companies have run into stiff opposition after floating the idea of using eminent domain for a power project and a pipeline. The issue is of import to libertarian-leaning voters, some of whom tried to take over the farmhouse of former Supreme Court Justice David Souter. He was the swing vote in a 2005 case, Kelo vs. New London, that gave more power to the government to take land if it believes it will benefit the public.
"I’ll tell you what I don’t support. I do not support the Kelo decision," Cruz said in Weare, N.H., the town where Souter lived in the farmhouse activists targeted and wanted to rename the "Lost Liberty Hotel."
"I think it is fundamentally wrong to use eminent domain to take private property of one individual citizens to give to another private corporation for private gain," Cruz said.
He has been asked a number of questions about substance abuse in a state that has been ravaged by opiate addiction. Here in New Hampshire at least 399 people died of drug overdoses in 2015, the majority from opiates. Cruz grew emotional as he ticked off statistics about drug use at a forum on opiate addiction, recounting his sister's struggles with addiction and death from a suspected overdose.
And he has brought up someone typically absent from rallies by Tea Party darlings: Sen. Bernie Sanders of neighboring Vermont, who is running for the Democratic nomination.
"I agree in many ways with Bernie Sanders," Cruz said here, citing their shared opposition to Washington and lobbyists.
The Texas Republican blitzed through the state earlier this week, but is tapering his schedule ahead of Saturday's debate and voting Tuesday. At a restaurant in Weare, Cruz spoke of doing away with the Common Core educational standards, keeping government out of people's lives, state's rights and protecting the Second Amendment.
Cruz said that gun control in New Hampshire is similar to what it is in Texas: "hitting what you aim at," he said.
A man clad in shorts in temperatures in the high 40s and clutching a non-alcoholic beer liked what Cruz had to say.
"Got that right," he said aloud.