Cruz's Iowa Gains Threatened

Cruz's Iowa Gains Threatened
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RINGSTED, Iowa—The countdown to the Iowa caucuses is now measured in hours, Ted Cruz reminded voters at various small-town stops throughout the day. But even in its twilight, the race here seems as volatile as ever.

It wasn’t too long ago that Cruz was considered the Hawkeye State favorite. Now, Donald Trump threatens his victory, and Marco Rubio is at his heels. 

After the past weeks of hitting Trump on the campaign trail, on the debate stages and on the airwaves, Cruz is training his fire on Rubio in the campaign’s final hours. 

In his closing arguments to potential caucus-goers here, Cruz pitched himself as the only trusted and consistent candidate in the race. And he used Rubio as his foil.  

“If you want to know if you can trust someone, you have to look at their walk,” Cruz told a gathering at a bar and grill in this town of 400. “If you’re tired of getting burned with politicians who claim to be against amnesty and campaign against amnesty, then go to Washington and join the Democrats who support amnesty.” 

He continued, with another not-so-subtle shot at Rubio: “How many times have we heard them say they support marriage, and yet they go to Washington, and they say we should do nothing about the Supreme Court’s marriage laws. The stakes are too high to get burned again.” 

The references to the Florida senator weren’t all veiled. He called him out by name. “If you look, in particular, at President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty, Marco Rubio’s gone on Univision and said, ‘No, no, no. I wouldn’t rescind amnesty.’” 

“Why the American people are so volcanically frustrated,” Cruz said, “is because the people who say they are on our team are fighting for the other guys.” 

Cruz and a super PAC supporting him began airing ads recently in the state hitting Trump. But in the lead-up to the caucuses on Monday, the Cruz campaign is now targeting Rubio on air, as first reported by the New York Times. It’s a notable decision that signals Cruz is growing concerned about Rubio’s potential in Iowa. 

The RealClearPolitics polling average shows Trump leading Cruz here by six percentage points.  Rubio trails Cruz by 10 points but is far ahead of his mainstream Republican rivals. A third-place showing by Rubio could give him helpful momentum heading into New Hampshire, where the Feb. 9 primary is expected to further winnow the field. A Trump win in Iowa would be a blow to Cruz, who has focused his campaign on the state with a robust ground operation and conservative coalition. A close third by Rubio would make Cruz especially uncomfortable. 

Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert, campaigning for Cruz in Iowa on Friday, also took shots at Rubio, saying he was “crushed” when Rubio campaigned against “amnesty” then supported a bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship when he was in the Senate. Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has been campaigning for Cruz across the state, conveyed similar sentiments.  

Both Cruz and Rubio have used immigration to attack each other. Both were confronted with past statements on citizenship and legalization during the GOP debate in Des Moines on Thursday. Rubio has tried to undercut Cruz’s conservative credentials on the issue and portray him as calculating. 

“The truth is, Ted, throughout this campaign, you've been willing to say or do anything in order to get votes,” Rubio said at the debate

Cruz has criticized Rubio for being a member of the Gang of Eight senators who crafted a comprehensive immigration bill that is loathed by conservatives.  

When asked by reporters Friday during another stop about whether he was concerned about Rubio’s potential here, Cruz insisted his focus is on his own “optimistic” vision. 

“The reason conservatives are uniting behind our campaign is they recognize that campaign promises are cheap if they are not backed up by action,” he said. “The Scripture’s way to determine who is telling the truth and who is just blowing smoke is, ‘You shall know them by their fruits.’ I’ve walked the walk.”

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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