CONCORD - CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is making a more forceful case that he — not Donald Trump — is the candidate true conservative voters will coalesce behind in the 2016 presidential race.
Cruz worked to align himself with Trump earlier in the campaign and isn't smacking the billionaire with insults now.
But in a two-day swing through New Hampshire, he's drawing sharper contrasts with Trump and the rest of the Republican field. Cruz says he's the only candidate with a proven record of standing up to Washington, on health care, immigration and more.
Primary voters are trying to distinguish between "campaign conservatives, people who talk a good game on the trail but haven't walked the walk, and a consistent conservative," Cruz told reporters Thursday after filing his paperwork to run in the New Hampshire primary.
"I am the only candidate running who has been a consistent conservative."
In a town hall meeting the night before, he said that when it comes to challenging Washington, "I was doing it long before Mr. Trump was running for president."
Cruz isn't just seeking to steal support from Trump but also to bring the conservative wing of the party behind him while more moderate candidates engage in a bruising fight with each other.
"The moderate lane is unbelievably crowded," he said. "What we're seeing every day is conservatives coalescing behind our campaign."
Cruz recently received the endorsement of the 603 Alliance, a conservative advocacy group in the first primary state.
Many of the state's well-known activists stood behind Cruz for a small rally outside the Statehouse after his filing. Early grassroots support is an indication that more conservative voters will come his way as the general electorate begins to pay more attention to the race, Cruz said.
"They are the folks who now have put in the time to do the hard scrutiny — to say, all right, who's telling the truth and who's just on the campaign trail saying whatever is popular at the moment?" Cruz said.
Cruz is drawing attention to his stance against "amnesty" for people living in the country illegally and his efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and repeal President Barack Obama's health care law. He's not mentioning most rivals by name, but his comments on immigration and Planned Parenthood are clearly aimed at Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose campaign is also gaining steam. Rubio missed the Senate's Planned Parenthood vote earlier this year and backed an immigration overhaul bill several years ago.
Conservative firebrand Bill O'Brien, a former New Hampshire House speaker, joined other activists at the rally. He noted that Trump once backed a single payer health care system and supported Democratic candidates. And he said voters will come to see that Trump doesn't fully understand the issues.
"They look and say, great guy, I'm glad he says the things that aren't politically correct, that thrills me to death," O'Brien said. "But he's not going to be the one that we can rely on to get things done."