Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is earning his reputation as a bare-knuckled presidential campaigner as new evidence emerged late this week of an effort to get Iowa GOP caucus voters to switch to him Monday night from retired surgeon Ben Carson.
The presidential campaign has now shifted in full gear to New Hampshire, which has its primary Tuesday, but revelations about Cruz’s campaign style are reverberating with his closest rivals.
Newly discovered voice mails by Breitbart, a conservative news outlet, show that the Cruz campaign was falsely telling operatives at Iowa voting sites that Carson was suspending his campaign. A CNN report had said Carson was leaving Iowa for a stop at his Florida home but did not say he was dropping out.
Cruz apologized to Carson earlier in the week but has maintained that the campaign was passing on information from CNN.
Carson, who did not suspend his campaign and merely went to get a change of clothes and then attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, was still steamed.
“I think it had a substantial impact,” Carson told Fox News on Thursday. “There’s even a phone message. . . . This is not a minor little incident. The real issue for me is it is not so much legal or illegal, but is it right or wrong to take advantage of a situation like that.”
One of the messages left for a Cruz precinct captain said, “Hello, this is the Cruz campaign with breaking news: Dr. Ben Carson will be (garbled) suspending campaigning following tonight’s caucuses. Please inform any Carson caucusgoers of this news and urge them to caucus for Ted instead. Thank you. Good night.”
I really would never do such a thing. Ben Carson
Cruz campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier did not respond to a request from McClatchy for comment. But she told Breitbart that Carson had “outperformed expectations” and “the voice mails are in line with the reports that were made at that time.”
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican who wanted Cruz defeated because of his opposition to federal ethanol support, criticized the Cruz campaign for its tactics.
“This thing that they distributed on caucus night saying that Dr. Carson was likely to drop out and his supporters should support Cruz, that is, I think, unethical and unfair,” said Branstad on Radio Iowa. “I think there’ll be repercussions to that.”
It is not yet clear what they may be.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said in a statement, “I take the integrity of the vote very seriously. However, there is no provision within Iowa Code that gives me the authority to oversee the presidential straw poll vote done at the Iowa caucus.”
Polk County, Iowa, supervisor Robert Brownell, a supporter of Sen. Marco Rubio, said in an interview that he didn’t think the Cruz misinformation had cost Carson many votes.
“On the other hand, people feel this was an underhanded thing to do,” said Brownell in an interview. “A lot of people think we need another Nixon, and maybe they’ve come to the right place.”
Richard Nixon resigned the presidency under the weight of charges of abusing his office and has been associated with using “dirty tricks” to get elected.
A new Monmouth University Poll out Friday that re-contacted likely Iowa voters found that nearly a third of those who’d said they would support Carson voted for other candidates on caucus night. And of those, Cruz got the highest percentage of switched votes, 1 in 4.
While most of Carson’s initial supporters did caucus on Monday, nearly one-third of them changed their mind about who to support. Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, on new poll results
In its final Iowa poll before the caucus, the Monmouth University Poll had predicted a Trump win. But in re-contacting voters pollsters found there was last-minute vote-switching that turned a pre-caucus Trump lead into a Cruz win Monday night. Carson finished fourth, behind Trump and Rubio.
“Among those who reported attending their local caucus, 79 percent ultimately supported the candidate they named in the pre-election poll, but a sizable 21 percent ended up supporting a different candidate,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a statement.
“While most of Carson’s initial supporters did caucus on Monday, nearly one-third of them changed their mind about who to support,” he said. However, the poll did not cite the false information as a factor. One unnamed voter said, “I still like Ben Carson very much . . . but I knew he wouldn’t show well in Iowa and I thought it would be a wasted vote.” That voter chose Rubio.
Cruz defended another last-minute Iowa campaign tactic: an official-looking mailer to voters that said “voting violation” and gave residents and their neighbors grades for having failed to vote in previous elections.
“I will apologize to no one for using every tool we can to encourage Iowa voters to come out and vote,” Cruz said in Iowa last weekend.
Pate, the GOP Iowa secretary of state, was disturbed enough to rebuke the Cruz campaign, and he issued a statement that said, “There is no such thing as an election violation related to frequency of voting.”