How Ted Cruz Is Defining Himself as the Counter to Rand Paul

At the Values Voter Summit, the Texan highlights his strong beliefs on conservative issues.

In an already crowded field of likely contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Ted Cruz has found his way to stand out against potential primary opponent Rand Paul: championing the most fundamental planks of the conservative base.

In a passionate speech Friday morning to conservatives at the Values Voter Summit, Cruz left no room for doubt about where he stands on the social issues that—albeit amid party conflict—still define the GOP.

"How do we win? We defend the values that are American values," he boomed. "We stand for life. We stand for marriage. We stand for Israel. We bring back jobs and opportunity and unleash small businesses to make it easier for people to achieve the American dream."

The annual conference and pep rally, hosted by the conservative Christian group the Family Research Council, offers Republican contenders the opportunity to pitch themselves to a core part of their base. Though no one has officially entered the 2016 race, outspoken audience members made their opinions clear. When Cruz promised the crowd that in 2017, a Republican president would be in the White House, one shouted, "You!"

Cruz called out his Republican colleagues who want to move to more moderate positions on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion rights, arguing that the winning strategy for the party means staying true to its long-held values.

"Our values are who we are," he said. "Our values are why we're here. And our values are fundamentally American. This country remains a center-right country. This country remains a country built on Judeo-Christian values."

Though Paul hasn't suggested that the GOP abandon these views, the libertarian-leaning senator from Kentucky hasn't taken firm stances on key conservative issues. Earlier this year, he said that while he is against abortion, he wouldn't push to overturn Roe v. Wade because the country is too divided on the issue. And he's said that he thinks his party will "evolve" on gay marriage to become "a bigger place where there's a mixture of opinions."

That lack of orthodoxy won't fly with Values Voter Summit attendees, and Friday, Cruz capitalized on his own decisiveness.

"How do we turn this country around?" he asked. "We don't paint in pale pastels. We paint in bold colors."

In a personal moment, Cruz highlighted his Christian faith, revealing the story of how his parents' marriage nearly dissolved before they found God. While he was growing up in Calgary, Canada, he said, neither of his parents were religious.

"Both of my parents drank far too much," Cruz said. "When I was 3 years old, my father decided he didn't want to be married anymore. And he didn't want a 3-year-old son. So he got on a plane and left."

Back in Houston, his father found his way to a Baptist church and "gave his life to Jesus," returning to Calgary. Without God, Cruz said, he would have been raised by a single mother.

That personal story of salvation bolsters Cruz's appeal to this crucial base more than a message touching solely on policy issues—and readies a redemption narrative perfect for a primary battle.