2016 hopefuls pitch S.C. Republicans at dinner

Gather together 1,000 S.C. Republicans in a room these days, and a few 2016 presidential prospects will come calling.

The S.C. GOP’s annual Silver Elephant fundraising dinner on Friday attracted three out-of-state White House hopefuls and a fourth homegrown prospect who made their pitches to hardcore party supporters.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz started his speech by bashing Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. He said she appointed a director of email security – a joke about her use of a private computer server while she was U.S. Secretary of State.

“I’m pretty sure Saudi Arabia is not paying for the speakers tonight,” Cruz said in a dig about foreign contributions to her family’s foundation.

He followed up with promises to simplify the nation’s tax code and bolster national security.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Republicans could boost wages by developing more domestic energy. He compared the current times to 1979 when the country’s economy was struggling under a Democratic president.

“We’re just a few leadership changes away” from making the nation better, Perry said.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum showed off his Palmetto State connections when his son, John, took part in The Citadel honor guard that brought the American and South Carolina flags into the dinner hall. Santorum has two sons attending the Charleston military college.

Santorum spoke about the breakdown of the family and called for S.C. Republicans to get involved in the 2016 race.

“Please don’t sit on the sideline,” Santorum said. “The reason the other side is winning is because they want it more than we do.”

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham acknowledged the challenges ahead in the 2016 presidential election and those he faced in his 2014 re-election bid.

Graham thanked his supporters for his contentious re-election primary win over six challengers who tried to paint the senator as too liberal to earn a conservative label.

“To those on the other side, I want to work with you where I can,” Graham said. “I’m not your enemy.”

Graham, who has said he’s 91 percent sure of running for president, dropped more hints that will go through with a bid. He mentioned the debate ahead on issues and gave shout-outs to early primary states.

“To Iowa and New Hampshire: Hello,” he said. “To South Carolina: You have my heart.”