AMES, Iowa — “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to the first Hispanic president of the United States,” radio host Glenn Beck told a crowd of conservative voters in a hotel ballroom on Saturday.
Out walked Texas Sen. [crscore]Ted Cruz[/crscore], who wants to be the chief competitor to GOP front-runner Donald Trump as Iowa casts the first votes of the presidential race on Monday.
But Beck could have also been talking about another first-term Republican senator, tea party-backed former lawyer and son of a Cuban immigrant who also held a rally just a few hours later in this same Iowa town.
Though polls show Trump leading in Iowa, Cruz and Florida Sen. [crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore] have found themselves on a collision course in recent days.
Should Rubio make a strong showing in Iowa — coming in second or third place, most likely — the Florida senator could overshadow Cruz heading into New Hampshire.
That could explain why Cruz’s campaign has changed course over the last few days, now targeting Rubio, instead of Trump, on the airwaves ahead of the caucuses.
Speaking to a scrum of reporters before an event at Iowa State University, Rubio suggested the ramped up attacks from Cruz is a sign he is surging. “I can just tell you in my experience that when people start attacking you, it’s because you’re doing something right,” he said.
Publicly, Cruz and his supporters are still saying they think Iowa is a one-on-one race with the New York businessman. “This race has come down to two individuals,” the influential Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats, a vocal Cruz supporter, said Saturday. “Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.”
Before Cruz’s midday event at the Gateway Hotel in Ames, Iowa Rep. [crscore]Steve King[/crscore], who has endorsed Cruz, disputed the narrative that Rubio is surging in Iowa. “No, there was a little bump, and it flattened out,” King said of Rubio. “That’s what I think.”
During the rally, Cruz’s wife, Heidi, introduced her husband, arguing the media has not painted an accurate portrait of her husband.
“What you most certainly won’t see in the eyes of the news media is what an incredibly, personally thoughtful person this is,” she said. “Ted is the person who comes home, he sits on the floor and plays games with the girls. He’s the person who comes off the campaign trail so tired and doesn’t forget my birthday.”
Beck, who recently gave Cruz a rare endorsement, spoke for about 20 minutes, saying he wants a candidate who won’t compromise constitutional principles. “I’m sorry,” Beck said. “I don’t want a guy who will make a deal just to make a deal.”
The event was heavy on language and policy proposals directed at evangelicals — who Cruz is actively wooing. Cruz spoke of going after Planned Parenthood, protecting religious freedoms and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
During an afternoon event on the campus of Iowa State University, Rubio emphasized the argument he could win a general election — and suggesting that others, like Cruz, can’t.
“I’m here today to ask you to caucus for me on Monday,” Rubio said. “Because I’m the conservative that will beat Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. And they know it. They know it. That’s why they spend so much time attacking me.”
Rubio told the crowd: “After I’m done taking the oath of office, I’m going straight to the oval office and when I get into the oval office, I am going to immediately repeal every single one of Barack Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders.”
The line sounded nearly similar to something Cruz said down the road in Ames just hours earlier.
“If I’m elected president, let me tell you what I intend to do on the first day in office,” Cruz said. “The first thing I intend to do is rescind every single illegal and unconstitutional executive action.”