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Ted Cruz and Rand Paul offer 2016 preview in dueling interviews

Ted Cruz and Rand Paul offered up dueling Fox interviews on Monday in a preview of what could become a bitter 2016 rivalry.

Fresh off his first presidential campaign speech, Sen. Ted Cruz told Fox News' Sean Hannity on Monday that he would take back the White House by firing up conservatives in ways his GOP rivals could not.

"The only way to win is to bring back to the polls the millions of conservatives who have been staying home, the millions of Christians, the millions of Reagan Democrats who have been staying home," Cruz said. 

Cruz largely shares the same positions as his Republican colleagues in Congress, but has fought with GOP leaders over his insistence that they can force Democrats into submission by holding hostage routine bills funding the government and raising the debt ceiling. The strategy helped pave the way for the 2013 government shutdown, in which Cruz and his allies unsuccessfully sought to stop the Affordable Care Act from going into effect.

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“An awful lot of Republicans, both in Washington and outside Washington, are resigned to leaving Obamacare in effect,” Cruz said.

Hannity mentioned to Cruz that The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog had labeled him “too extreme and too disliked to win” based in part on his low standing with many Republican officials after their repeated clashes.

“You know, Sean, when the New York Times says the Washington elites despise me, my only question is whether I have to disclose that to the [Federal Election Commission] as an in-kind donation,” he said. “I can’t think of a better ground to run on.” 

Responding to attacks from the Democratic National Committee labeling him an extremist, Cruz said that Democrats would try to portray him “as a wild-eyed lunatic with dynamite around my chest.”

Cruz announced his presidential campaign in a speech at Liberty University on Monday morning, making him the first major candidate in either the Republican or Democratic Party to do so.

He’ll have company soon in Sen. Rand Paul, however, who is set to declare his own run on April 7. The two will have to battle for the same pool of tea party voters to win the nomination and Paul offered a preview of what the competition might look like in a Fox appearance of his own on Monday. 

The Kentucky senator seemed all too happy to deflate Cruz’s big moment, noting that it took place at a Liberty University convocation with mandatory attendance and that some of his own supporters were out in force wearing “Stand with Rand” t-shirts.

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“I went to Baylor University and we were all required to [go to] convocation so all these kids are required and some of those kids wanted to make sure that just by having to be there they weren’t expressing their support,” Paul told host Megyn Kelly. “We were glad to see them there and organized and excited about the possibility of me running.” 

While Paul suggested that he and Cruz had a similar conservative record, he said he offered an “intellectually enticing” message to non-Republicans rather than just “throwing out red meat” to likeminded audiences. Paul is banking his 2016 campaign on a plan to attract young and minority voters to the party with a libertarian message on civil rights, including criminal justice reform and restrictions on government spying, and a more dovish foreign policy. 

“I guess what is different is our approach to how we would make the party bigger,” Paul said.

Cruz got a preview of the ugly side of the presidential campaign as well ahead of his Hannity appearance. In addition to Paul, real estate mogul Donald Trump appeared on Kelly’s show and questioned whether Cruz could constitutionally run for president as a “natural born citizen” because he was born in Canada.

Constitutional scholars tend to interpret the “natural born citizen” requirement as only requiring that the president be born on American soil or to an American parent, but it’s never been fully tested in the courts. Asked by Hannity about the issue, Cruz noted that John McCain was born in Panama and that Mitt Romney’s father, George Romney, also ran for president despite being born in Mexico.

“As a legal matter, my mother is an American citizen by birth,” Cruz said. “It’s been federal law for over two centuries that the child of an American born abroad is a citizen – a natural born citizen.”