Florida Sen. Marco Rubio accused Texas Sen. Ted Cruz of lying about his record Wednesday night as the two Republicans battle for second place in Saturday’s hotly contested South Carolina primary.
“I said he’s been lying because if you say something that isn’t true and you say it over and over again and you know that it’s not true, there’s no other word for it,” Rubio said at a CNN town hall meeting.
With both men hammering one another for advantage behind front-runner Donald Trump, Rubio pushed back on Cruz’s earlier comments and TV ad that criticized his record on illegal immigration.
Rubio supported a comprehensive immigration bill that included a path to citizenship, but denies Cruz’s characterization of it as “amnesty.” An ad from a pro-Cruz super political action committee was pulled by stations in South Carolina.
Cruz, who appeared after Rubio at the town hall that saw them and Ben Carson appearing sequentially, exulted in a new national poll that shows him leading, saying “it feels fantastic. We’re seeing that old Reagan coalition coming together.”
He noted that pollsters predicted Trump would win Iowa, but he defeated him, and ended up with more votes than any candidate in Iowa history.
The race in South Carolina is bare-knuckled as tradition often dictates.
Trump has accused Cruz of stealing a victory in Iowa by misleading Iowa voters into thinking that Carson was dropping out of the race, and that they should instead vote for Cruz. Rubio’s campaign has accused Cruz of a pattern of bad behavior. And Rubio supporters have accused Cruz of being behind a fake Facebook post saying a top surrogate, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-SC, was no longer backing him.
“So these things are disturbing and they need to be addressed. And I’ll address them,” Rubio said.
Rubio appeared at the session in Greenville hours after scoring the most coveted endorsement in the state: Gov. Nikki Haley announced she is backing him, saying he’s best suited to restore GOP principles of limited government and cutting the federal debt.
In response to a question, Rubio told CNN moderator Anderson Cooper that he was feeling “Marcomentum” in the state with larger crowds appearing at his events.
We feel a lot of energy. People coming to our rallies are each getting bigger. People signing up. Obviously, Saturday, we'll find out,
At the same time, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reported that Cruz has taken a national edge over Trump 28-26.
Earlier, Cruz called a news conference to deny allegations of dirty tricks made by the other campaigns and called out Trump for sending him a cease and desist letter over a TV ad that the New York billionaire said defamed him. He taunted Trump to sue him.
At the townhall, Cruz defended an ad he’s running that includes footage of Trump supporting abortion rights. Trump has threatened a lawsuit, saying he’s since changed his position, and Cruz said the cease and desist letter made him laugh.
“Four days ago on the debate stage, Donald Trump explained how many wonderful things he thinks Planned Parenthood does,” Cruz said. “Nobody who is actually pro-life could stand up on stage and sing the praises of Planned Parenthood.” Largely a provider of healthcare services, Planned Parenthood also performs abortions.
The three-hour meeting, with some questions posed by voters in the audience, came three days before Saturday’s Republican primary. The remaining candidates – Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich – will appear at a similar event in Columbia on Thursday.
Carson, who once topped the polls but has found his support slipping, appeared in the opening hour, saying that if he were in President Barack Obama’s position he would nominate a Supreme Court justice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died over the weekend.
I probably would take the opportunity to nominate someone,” Carson said, striking a different stance than Republicans who have said the next president should nominate a candidate. Carson said it wouldn’t “necessarily mean that person will be acted on or confirmed.” But he added, “Why not do it?”
The litmus test would be their life
Carson said he understood why Apple is reluctant to help investigators crack the cell phone of one of the gunmen in the San Bernardino mass shooting.
“Apple and probably a lot of other people don’t probably necessarily trust the government these days,” he said.
At a competing town hall held by MSNBC, Trump called it “disgraceful” that Apple has resisted U.S. efforts to open the phone: “I think security first. Apple should absolutely, we should force them to do it. We should do whatever we have to do and I guess he wants to be a good liberal and he doesn’t want to give the information.”
He also pledged that he’d insist on upholding the Second Amendment as a litmus test for a Supreme Court nominee.