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Story highlights

Ted Cruz is standing by his criticism of "New York values"

Cruz also told Bash he "laughed out loud" when the New York Daily News blasted him on its front page

(CNN) —  

Ted Cruz says he isn’t intimidated by recent polls showing him badly trailing Donald Trump in New York’s critical primary contest later this month – and he’s standing by his criticism of “New York values.”

“Everyone in New York and outside of New York knows exactly what I meant by that. And it is the liberal values of Democratic politicians who have been hammering the people of New York for decades,” the Texas senator told CNN’s Dana Bash in an interview that aired Thursday on “Erin Burnett OutFront.”

Cruz also told Bash he “laughed out loud” when the New York Daily News blasted him on its front page earlier in the day, telling him to take the “F U” train.

“I laughed out loud,” Cruz said. “Look, I have never been popular with left-wing journalists or tabloids, and frankly that’s not my target audience.”

Bash asked Cruz, a Southern Baptist, whether he can appeal to New York’s Jewish population. Earlier in the day, Cruz made matzo at a Chabad in Brooklyn.

RELATED: Cruz apology to McConnell? ‘Ain’t gonna happen,’ he says

“We’ve got tremendous support in the Jewish community, tremendous support especially in the Orthodox (Jewish) community,” Cruz told Bash. “I’ve been privileged to speak at synagogues all over the country. In particular, to focus on defending religious liberty, which has been a passion of mine my entire life, and focus on standing with Israel. In my time in the Senate, I have led the fight to stand with Israel, to stand against this disastrous Iranian nuclear deal.”

Republican New York Rep. Peter King, appearing later on “Erin Burnett OutFront,” said Cruz’s comments Thursday about the state’s values show “how disingenuous he is.”

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” King said. “And when I think of New York values, I think of the cops and firefighters on 9/11, I think of the National Guard Reserve Units that were in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think of Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg who turned the city around.”

’Building a big tent’

Cruz is trailing Trump by close to 40 percentage points in New York – 56%-20% – in the latest Quinnipiac University poll of New York Republicans. The Empire State holds its Republican primary on April 19.

But still basking in his win in Wisconsin Tuesday night, Cruz argued Thursday that New York Republicans would unite against Trump and behind him. Cruz has pushed to present himself as a “unity” pick for Republicans in opposition to Trump, and argued again that he picked up 80% of Marco Rubio’s supporters after the Florida senator dropped out of the race.

“We are building a big tent and we’re unifying Republicans,” Cruz said. “You know, nationwide there are about 65-70% of Republicans who get that Donald Trump is not the best candidate to go up against Hillary Clinton, and that he loses, and loses badly against Hillary. What we’re seeing happen all over the county is those 65-70% of Republicans are uniting behind this campaign. We saw it powerfully in Wisconsin just a couple of days ago.”

Cruz also praised his wife, Heidi Cruz, as the “strongest woman” he knows, amid attacks from Trump. Heidi Cruz played a star role Tuesday night when supporters in Wisconsin chanted for her to come on stage at Cruz’s victory speech at the end of the night.

“I never envisioned that my opponent would attack my wife, that he would go after my wife and my family,” Cruz said. “And Heidi is a rock. She is strong, she’s come through this unwavering. But when I recognized Heidi in our victory speech, the supporters there began chanting ‘Heidi!’ and it was a powerful moment, just to see so many people embracing her.”

CNN’s Jason Squitieri contributed to this report.