John Locher / Associated Press
Saturday, April 9, 2016 | 7:23 p.m.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz touted his electability against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and support for Israel during an hourlong speech to some of the Republican Party's wealthiest Jewish donors in Las Vegas.
Cruz also cited his strong stance against illegal immigration, earning frequent applause and multiple standing ovations from the crowd of about 500 members of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
"America and Israel were created as havens and beacons of hope," Cruz said, "for people to flee to and live according to their dreams, according to their faith and according to their hopes."
Cruz said his support among voters ages 18-30 is the main reason he is a tougher opponent for Clinton than Republican front-runner Donald Trump. While Barack Obama won the young demographic about 70 percent to 30 percent in the 2008 and 2012 elections, Cruz cited a Marquette University poll that placed him 14 points ahead of Clinton among Wisconsin voters ages 18-30. A Republican president hasn’t carried Wisconsin since 1984.
He also cited Ohio, where he trails Clinton statewide by 2 percent among all voters, he said.
"A Trump nomination would hand the election to Hillary Clinton," Cruz said.
Cruz, who swept Colorado's 34 delegates Saturday, drew a mixed reaction from many in the fiscally conservative but socially moderate audience when he said he'd propose "building a wall” at the Mexico border and "tripling border security."
"We have been and will remain a country that celebrates immigrants, but for those who come legally," he said to some applause and mixed chatter.
Cruz also vowed to repeal “every word” of the Affordable Care Act, abolish the Internal Revenue Service and cut other federal agencies, all of which drew cheers.
“This election is about unleashing the roaring machine that is the American free-enterprise system,” Cruz said.
The only boos of the night came when Cruz mentioned Trump’s proposal to remain neutral on Israeli-Palestinian relations. Cruz said that if he were president, America would stand “unapologetically” with Israel,” and added he’d move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
He questioned Trump’s neutrality on the issue and said he's uneducated on foreign affairs.
“If you can’t tell the difference between our allies and radical Islamic terrorists that want to kill us, that raises some questions about your qualifications to be president,” he said.
Anna Hershey, a previously undecided Republican Jewish Coalition voter from La Jolla, Calif., said Cruz's "initiative to address social issues" in Saturday's speech won her vote.
"He doesn't share the same sentiment as a lot of people in this room," Hershey said. "But he had the guts to address that, and I appreciate the views we have in common."
Another attendee, Irma Fralic, from Glendale, Pa., applauded the senator for being the first presidential candidate to ever speak at the program. She said Cruz's presence alone was enough to win her vote. Trump and fellow GOP presidential candidate John Kasich declined invitations to speak at the event.
"Jews are for Cruz," Fralic said. "He's a very smart man."
The coalition is funded by Sheldon Adelson and was staged at the billionaire’s Venetian resort. Adelson did not attend Saturday's event due to a family commitment, a coalition spokesman said.
Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands who also owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Israel Hayom, the largest newspaper by circulation in Israel, spent between $90 million and $150 million supporting Republican candidates through super PACs in the 2012 election, according to estimates from The Washington Post and Huffington Post.
A coalition spokesman said the event was an opportunity for Cruz to win political support as well as donations, and not just from Adelson.
“We’re always proud to welcome presidential candidates among the most active and influential donors and activists in the Republican Party,” the spokesman, Mark McNulty, said Friday.