Cruz targets Rubio ahead of Iowa caucuses

Story highlights

  • "We don't view any state as a 'must-win,' " Ted Cruz said
  • Cruz said he would follow through on his conservative campaign pledges, unlike his Republican opponents

Washington (CNN)Ted Cruz is trying to tamp down expectations in the final hours before Iowans cast the first ballots of the 2016 primary season as a new poll shows him trailing GOP front-runner Donald Trump in the Hawkeye State.

"We don't view any state as a 'must-win,' " the Texas senator told CNN's Jake Tapper in an interview that aired Sunday on "State of the Union." "I think we're positioned to do very well here in Iowa. I think we've worked very hard. You know the grassroots team we've got is unbelievable, it is second to none."
Cruz is hoping that evangelicals and conservatives frustrated with the Washington establishment will hand him a victory in the critical first-in-the-nation caucus state. But Cruz, who once led in several Iowa polls, would need to pull off an underdog victory: a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics survey released Saturday night found him trailing Donald Trump, 23% to 28%.
    In explaining his pitch to voters, Cruz told Tapper he would follow through on his conservative campaign pledges, unlike his Republican opponents.
    "The central question in this primary is trust," Cruz said. "We are tired of being burned."
    Cruz also went on the offense against Trump.
    "Donald did not want his record challenged," Cruz said, explaining why Trump skipped Thursday's Republican debate. "It's the same reason actually that Donald engages in insults, because he can't defend his substantive record."
    But Trump isn't Cruz's top target any more. At Thursday's debate, Cruz and Rubio clashed over immigration and other issues, and a new television ad targets Rubio's past support for Senate "Gang of Eight" immigration legislation.
    "We keep having politicians who sound great on the trail and they don't do what they say," Cruz said when asked about his policy differences with Rubio.
    Cruz continued to hit Rubio.
    "A vote for Marco is a vote for amnesty," Cruz said. "And I'll tell you this: If we nominate a candidate who supports amnesty, a candidate who has the same position on amnesty as Hillary Clinton, we will lose."
    When Tapper pointed to Rubio's response saying Cruz offered an amendment that would have provided a path to legal status, Cruz responded: "Yeah and his response is false."
    "Marco supports amnesty, he supports legalization, and he supports citizenship today as a presidential candidate. I oppose amnesty, I oppose citizenship, I oppose legalization," he said.
    Rubio, however, disputed the accusation in an interview with Tapper that also aired Sunday.
    "I don't support amnesty. We're not going to have amnesty when I'm president. There's going to be real consequences for violating our law," the Florida senator said.
    Rubio also charged Cruz with shifting his positions.
    "He's always looking to take whatever position it takes to win votes or raise money, and we're not going to beat Hillary Clinton with someone that will say or do anything to get elected," he said.