Ted Cruz on Tuesday returned to New Hampshire for the first time in months, promising conservative voters he'll protect their gun rights and several times invoking the state's "Live Free or Die" motto.
"It's not `live coddled by a bunch of nanny-state liberals who want to control every aspect of your life, or die,"' he said to laughs and cheers outside a gun range. "It's not `trust Hillary Clinton and her village to raise your kids and strip them of all their liberties or die."'
More moderate-leaning Republicans have typically fared better in New Hampshire than staunch conservatives like Cruz. But Donald Trump maintains a strong lead in New Hampshire, so a candidate could finish second or third by winning over a relatively small segment of the state's Republicans. Cruz is returning to the state Sunday for a five-day bus tour through all 10 counties.
The Texas senator's comments came on his first visit to New Hampshire since November. He's focused more of his energy on the first caucus state of Iowa, where he's now battling Trump for a first-place finish.
While each of the Republican candidates strongly support gun rights, Cruz' focus on the issue is unusual. A pro-gun message in particular may be a way to win support with the GOP primary. New Hampshire is home to relatively lax gun laws, and the Republican-controlled state legislature voted twice last year to repeal the licensing requirement to carry concealed guns. The state's Democratic governor vetoed both.
Cruz told reporters he expects his support in New Hampshire to keep growing.
"Our support has been steadily, gradually increasing each and every day," he said. "And it's really followed the pattern we've seen nationwide."