Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has vaulted to the front rank of Republican presidential contenders, whipped up an enthusiastic crowd of supporters Thursday night in St. Paul as part of his bid to win over conservative Republicans in states that will vote early in next year’s marathon presidential contest.

“God bless the great state of Minnesota,” Cruz shouted, opening his remarks to a packed room of cheering fans in the Harriet Island Pavilion, across the river from downtown St. Paul. He promised the crowd of at least 500 a break from eight years of President Obama, whom he criticized heavily.

“People are waking up. There is a revival,” said Cruz, whose 23-minute speech was largely a checklist of things he’d do in the first day of his presidency — rescind Obama’s executive orders, instruct the Department of Justice to investigate Planned Parenthood, and end what he called the persecution of religious liberty, terminate the Iran nuclear deal, and move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. “Help is on the way,” he said.

Minnesota’s presidential caucus will be held March 1. It’s among 11 other states holding caucuses or primaries. The day, dubbed Super Tuesday, follows the first four contests in February: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

In the still-wide-open Republican race, Minnesota already has been targeted at varying levels by several of the Republican campaigns. None more so than Cruz, who earlier this month won a straw poll of about 300 influential Minnesota GOP activists.

“I think that is indicative of what we’re seeing nationally,” Cruz told reporters before his speech. “We’re seeing conservatives unite, come together.”

Joe Meisinger, a construction worker from West St. Paul, said Cruz inspired him to attend his first rally for a presidential candidate. He bought a poster bearing Cruz’s photo and taped it to a plywood board during the rally.

“I believe in Ted. Ted’s our future,” Meisinger said, noting that he was swayed by Cruz’s toughly worded approach to combating terrorism and his vows to vastly reduce federal spending.

Trading barbs

As Cruz has risen in polls, he has begun to draw more scrutiny from his fellow Republican candidates. In recent days, he and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have been trading barbs on immigration policy.

“I have always opposed amnesty, legalization and citizenship, and I will always oppose amnesty, legalization and citizenship” for illegal immigrants, Cruz said, on a day when Rubio in a Fox News interview again accused Cruz of shifting on the issue.

Cruz also drew attention Thursday from the Democratic front-runner. Shortly before his speech in St. Paul, the Hillary Clinton campaign swung at remarks Cruz made in Tuesday’s night’s Republican presidential debate that he would “carpet-bomb” the terror group ISIL (or ISIS) until “sand can glow in the dark.”

Cruz’s words were “irresponsible” and “full of bluster,” read a statement from Laura Rosenberger, a foreign policy adviser to Clinton. “Ted Cruz is trying to prove that he’s tough.”

When talking to reporters, Cruz reiterated what he said at the debate.

“Let me be unequivocally clear: If I am elected president, we will defeat radical Islamic terrorism,” Cruz said. “We will not weaken, we will not degrade ISIS. We will utterly destroy ISIS, we will carpet-bomb them into oblivion.”

Supporter: Cruz principled

Elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012, Cruz is still a relative newcomer to national politics. But he quickly established himself as a fiery critic of the Obama administration and a frequent thorn in the side to even his fellow Republicans in Congress, whom he has repeatedly criticized as not committed enough to thwarting Obama’s agenda.

At the St. Paul rally, Cruz slammed what he called the “bipartisan corruption” of Washington, saying that the whole point of his campaign is to repudiate it.

Cruz’s St. Paul stop was his second on a fly-around to 12 cities in the next seven days, most of them voting or caucusing on Super Tuesday.

Jake Nordvall, an account executive from Savage, and his wife, Jessie, came to see Cruz, whose anti-establishment conservatism won him over several years ago, he said.

“He does what he says he’s going to do,” Nordvall said. “You get most politicians, they’re voting for their paycheck. I want someone who will stand on principle.”