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GOP’s Ted Cruz casts himself as a conservative fighter

Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz answers questions from supporters at the Holiday Inn in Rock Hill on Friday. .
Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz answers questions from supporters at the Holiday Inn in Rock Hill on Friday. . dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Republican Ted Cruz cast himself as a fighter for conservative values Friday as he sought to stake his place in the South’s first presidential primary of 2016.

“The only way we reignite the promise of America is for millions of courageous conservatives across South Carolina and across the country to rise up and demand that we change course,” the GOP’s first declared candidate told more than 200 people in Rock Hill.

The U.S. senator from Texas was making the first stop on a two-day swing through the Palmetto State.

With its first-in-the South primary less than a year away, South Carolina already has begun drawing hopefuls. Two weeks ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker held a fundraiser in the same Holiday Inn meeting room that Cruz packed on Friday.

And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also visited the state last month.

Cruz called the Obama administration’s tentative agreement this week with Iran “a historic mistake” that threatens U.S. security.

Though a final agreement with Iran would be weeks away, administration officials announced what they called a framework for agreement Thursday.

President Barack Obama called it “a historic understanding with Iran which, if implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Pointing to built-in safeguards, he said, “If Iran cheats, the world will know it.”

But Cruz called it “a terrible deal.”

“It is not surprising, but I think it is a profound threat to the national security of America and to our allies,” he said. “It is a historic mistake reminiscent of Munich in 1938.”

Obama warned Congress not to undermine the deal for politics. But Cruz pledged to try to block it in Congress. If that failed, he said, it would expire when a new president takes office in 2017.

The senator took particular aim at a part of the deal that would limit Iranian production capability for 10 years.

“And within 10 years the deal expires altogether,” Cruz said. “So 10 years from now, under the terms of this deal, America is okey-dokey fine with Iran having a nuclear weapon.”

Cruz also targeted fellow Republicans.

He criticized those who have vacillated in support of so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts that have caused controversy in Indiana and Arkansas.

“We’re seeing a lot of Republican politicians afraid of their own shadow and they’re running and hiding,” he said. “I will not shy away from anyone standing up and defending their religious liberty of every American under the First Amendment.”

Cruz repeatedly pointed to his record of fighting for conservative causes, in contrast to the party’s last two nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

“We’re not going to win unless we’re willing to engage,” he said. “We saw in 2008 and 2012 Republican nominees who did not take the case to the other side.…Of this (GOP) field I have the strongest record of standing and fighting and leading on the great issues of the day defending conservative principles.”

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