When I walked into Sen. Ted Cruz’s State of the Union Town Hall on Tuesday, my eye caught this campaign button. Cruz stares out of the image with a no-nonsense expression, his body covered in tattooed conservative symbols. To my mind, the button’s “black listed & loved it” logo describes a recurrent theme of Cruz’s remarks during the evening’s event.

From the speeches of local government officials who introduced the senator to Cruz’s own remarks, speakers worked hard to profess his outsider status as a crusader against the Washington elite. During the series of introductions for Cruz, individuals made mention of his bad reputation amongst his Senate colleagues, using it as a sign of his genuineness. Cruz himself repeatedly called out members of the Republican and Democratic parties for being beholden to Wall Street interests while distancing himself from both sides of the aisle. 

The event, staged on the same day as President Obama’s State of the Union address, functioned as a satire of President Obama’s tenure in the White House as well as a faux State of the Union address after Cruz’s first year in the Oval Office. During the address, Cruz painted a picture of what New Hampshire voters can expect during his first months in the presidency. Tapping into conservative voter discontent with Wall Street, career politicians, and, in his words, “elected liberals,” Cruz engaged with key issues including reducing the size of the federal bureaucracy, setting term limits for government officials, and income inequality. As a first-time Town Hall attendee, I was surprised at how comfortable the audience members were with vocalizing their reactions to Cruz’s remarks. The audience was active, frequently interacting with Cruz using affirmative comments including “amen” and “praise.” In the New Hampshire primary’s 100 year history, the election has evolved into an intensive competition as candidates vie for voters’ hearts and minds. At least from this initial Town Hall, it appears to me that New Hampshire voters regard the opportunity to engage with candidates with pride and responsibility. High school and college students were eager to ask questions in person.

The Cruz campaign certainly understands the importance of engagement as demonstrated by Cruz’s final plug of the evening for volunteers. By engaging voters with his message of anti-political correctness, Cruz hopes to mobilize the evangelical base of GOP. In light of Cruz’s strategy to position himself as a Washington outsider, it appears as though Cruz, like Donald Trump, is striving to engage voters disillusioned with Washington and political correctness. In the past few months, Cruz has been gaining in the Iowa polls. With a potential victory in Iowa, the Cruz campaign has a lot at stake in New Hampshire. Over the next few weeks, it will be interesting to watch whether Cruz can expand his base of evangelical right-wing voters to more mainstream Republican voters in New Hampshire in order to win the first-in-the-nation primary.