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Cruz's campaign opened a new front of attacks against Rubio's poor Senate attendance record

"I'm going to let Marco defend his own voting record. I can tell you that I flew back to Washington, D.C. today to vote against this omnibus," Cruz told reporters

Washington CNN —  

Ted Cruz tried to regain the offensive Friday in his escalating fight with Marco Rubio, opening a new front over Rubio’s poor Senate attendance record and trying his best to shift scrutiny from his history on immigration to Rubio’s.

Cruz, locked in a now daily, heated fight with his GOP rival, needled Rubio for missing a high-profile vote that morning on the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill. Both Rubio and Cruz opposed the deal, with Rubio at one point this week saying Republicans should try to slow it down, but only Cruz returned to Washington to actually vote “no.”

Though he spent much of the first day of his southern tour mired in an immigration war that is growing increasingly nasty by the day, Cruz’s campaign joined the chorus of Republicans targeting Rubio for his missed Senate votes. At a campaign stop near Richmond, Virginia, only a couple of hours from the Capitol, Cruz hit his fellow senator gently.

“I’m going to let Marco defend his own voting record. I can tell you that I flew back to Washington, D.C. today to vote against this omnibus,” Cruz told reporters.

But the candidate’s aides were much more biting, spending much of Friday highlighting Rubio’s past attendance, using hashtags like #NoShowMarco and ridiculing his light footprint on the campaign trail. The Texas senator has noted in prior appearances of times he canceled fundraisers to make Washington votes he sees as impactful.

”.@marcorubio FOUND! - Missed the spending bill vote today b/c he had 1 event in a row in Iowa - a record-setting breakneck pace for Marco,” Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler tweeted.

Rubio, who was campaigning in Iowa on Friday before an event in Missouri, defended his missed vote in an interview with CBS, saying: “In essence, not voting for it is a vote against it.”

Ken Cuccinelli endorses Cruz

Cruz’s new move came as he looked to continue to rebuke Rubio for his attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, a bill that Cruz opposed, in part, over its pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The surging presidential contender, in a new television ad released by his campaign Friday evening, shows Iowa voters a 2013 black-and-white photograph of a laughing Rubio standing alongside two prominent Senate Democrats.

But Cruz was unable to totally turn the conversation back to Rubio and away from himself. Cruz authored an amendment during the 2013 battle that Rubio argues shows Cruz’s support for legalization, and Cruz spent most of a 20-minute interview with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren testily defending his past record.

“No, it did not say it would have legal status,” Cruz told a skeptical Van Susteren, who repeatedly charged that Cruz would have done just that. “Read it as many times as you’d like.”

Looking to toughen his contrast with Rubio, Cruz this week ruled out legalization unequivocally, a position he has been resistant to take for much of the campaign. And on Friday, he spelled out in the most specific terms yet just how far he would go to deport undocumented immigrants, saying he would expel those apprehended by authorities but not quite saying whether he would authorize a new special force to apprehend them.

Repeatedly during the confrontational back-and-forth, Cruz tried to shift the scrutiny away from his record and back to Rubio’s. And on Friday, his campaign received a fresh surrogate in Ken Cuccinelli, the head of the Senate Conservatives Fund, a Washington pressure group despised by Senate leadership for looking to replace Republican incumbents.

The endorsement of Cuccinelli, the former attorney general in Virginia and a GOP candidate for governor, was not unexpected – his top political aide at SCF, Matt Hoskins, has already been working for Cruz behind the scenes. But it gave Cruz a new ally in the immigration wars, with Cuccinelli alleging Friday onstage in Richmond that some are trying to “muddy the waters” over Cruz’s voting record.

The Texas senator has portrayed Rubio’s decision to back the 2013 bill as motivated primarily by winning over top Republican moneymen, and on Friday he mocked that Rubio was enamored by the fame as well.

“Back in 2013, the Rubio campaign believed it would benefit them politically if they broke their promises to the Florida voters and pushed amnesty,” Cruz said. “Remember, that was back when Senator Rubio was on the cover of Time magazine named ‘The Savior.’ Well, they’re regretting that decision now.”