DES MOINES — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told a group of Iowa home-schoolers that school choice is a civil right and "there is no liberty more important than religious liberty."
More than 500 home-school advocates were on hand at the Des Moines Marriot to hear Cruz speak in what was his fourth trip to the state since July. The gathering was put on by the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, or NICHE. It’s a small but politically influential group in Iowa and in Republican circles in particular.
The group burnished its reputation among conservatives in 2013 by organizing a wide-ranging reworking of the state’s home-school rules as part of the education reform package.
“Congratulations,” Cruz told the crowd. “You won a major victory here.”
His 20-minute speech focused on fatherhood, educational choice and religious freedom that he delivered standing beside, not behind, the podium and without notes.
He called himself a “passionate fan” of school choice. He recounted his fights as solicitor general in Texas, where he defended the placement of the Ten Commandments in the Texas Statehouse and his writing the brief on behalf of all 50 states in defending the requirement to say the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools even though it contains the words “under God.”
“I would love to see Senator Cruz run for president,” said Richard Puhl, a home-school parent from Des Moines who was one of a handful of families that signed up to have their pictures taken with Cruz before he took the stage. “A lot of his approach and beliefs stems from his values. I’m fairly conservative in my viewpoints, politically and religiously, and I know he has very traditional viewpoints.”
Although Cruz has not publicly announced plans to seek the Republican Party nomination in 2016, his frequent visits to Iowa did catch the attention of Democrats and some interest groups.
Americans United for Change chided Cruz for visiting Iowa, where biofuels is a key industry.
“As Iowa Republicans get their first look at Ted Cruz today, they might want to ask him why he's putting Texas Oil interests ahead of Iowa's ethanol producers. His plan to repeal President Bush's Renewable Fuel Standard would put 62,000 Iowa jobs at risk — most of them in rural, Republican areas of the state,” Caren Benjamin, executive director of Americans United, said in a news release. “Killing Iowa's biofuel industry may win him support from Exxon, but it's lousy politics in Iowa and lousy policy for our country — which already spends about $1 billion a day on foreign oil.”Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz held a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning, calling Cruz “the new face of the Republican Party” and criticizing him for leading the government shutdown in 2013 and his opposition to same-sex marriage.