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Ted Cruz: Conservatives Will Stay Home if Romney is Nominee

January 18, 2015: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, at the South Carolina Tea Party Convention Leigh Ann Caldwell

Welcome to the presidential primary. It’s where no candidate has announced a run but the race for votes is well underway.

At the annual South Carolina Tea Party conference in the early nominating state of South Carolina, Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, gave an aggressive argument to several hundred activists to nominate a principled Republican who “paints not in pastels but in bold colors.”

The reference to Ronald Reagan was the first of two during his 40-minute speech at an aging beach-front resort in Myrtle Beach. But the potential presidential candidate did mention Mitt Romney several times. Cruz said Romney, who put forward Friday a public declaration that he is considering a third presidential run, was the latest Republican nominee to pacify conservative voters leading to depressed conservative turnout and a Democrat for president.

“Do we go back to the same old, same old? Or do we stand for principle,” Cruz told the mostly middle-aged and retired crowd, referring to the uninspiring “mushy middle” where he said Republican presidential candidates have gravitated in recent elections.

“If we nominate another candidate in the mold of a Bob Dole, John McCain or Mitt Romney ... the same people who stayed home in '08 an '12 will stay home in ’16 and the Democrat will win again,” Cruz said.

Cruz hasn’t announced his presidential candidacy yet, but he told NBC News after he speech that he's "looking very seriously" at a run, adding that he expects the field to be set in the next few months and it is likely to include candidates that appeal to different factions within the Republican Party. "I think we will likely see a crowded field and we're going to have a robust national debate about he right direction for this country, how we lead and how we win."

Cruz spoke to his core supporters supporters Sunday, however. The crowd was extremely open to a Cruz candidacy in this critical presidential nominating state. Parlaying his appeal, he asked the crowd to text the word “constitution” to his political action committee, enabling him to increase his supporter contact database and direct people to his fundraising website.

The feisty conservative elicited standing ovations when he demanded the “repeal of every word of Obamacare,” the abolition of the IRS and the implementation of a flat tax, and stopping President Barack Obama’s “illegal and unconstitutional executive amnesty.”

The 4th annual conference ballooned this year from an attendance of 100 activists last year to 500 registrants this year as three potential presidential candidates are speaking (well, four if you include Donald Trump who is flying in in typical Trump style with reporters on his custom 757 Monday).

While "Trump for President" stickers weren't visible, retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson had many supporters. After facing some criticism when saying that one admirable thing about ISIS is that they are willing to die for his beliefs, Carson came down hard on the Islamic State, saying there is “only one solution” and that is to “destroy them first.”

Carson, a political novice, did admit that he’s “not an expert in all international affairs,” but said that’s why he would surround himself with smart staff who do understand.

Carson is also considering a presidential run after seeing his conservative star rise after numerous appearances on Fox News. Many in the audience donned Draft Ben Carson t-shirts with supporters describing him as “honest,” “trustworthy,” and “a real conservative.”

Carson, who gained notoriety by his vocal opposition to the Affordable Care Act, said one of the main reasons he’s opposed to it because once the government takes over health care, he said, then it can “get control of everything else.”

Carson warned, however, that Obamacare will never be repealed unless Republicans offer a replacement.

On this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, Carson, who is black, said the Democrats push a culture of dependency that has torn apart the African American community since the late 1960s. He spoke about his mother who was one of 24 children and married at 13. While he said she accepted government assistance at times, she refused to accept a “chronic state of dependency."