Florida Sen. Marco Rubio declared Friday that he had clear momentum in the final days before the Iowa caucus, citing as evidence a decision by his chief rival Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to shift negative ad spending away from Donald Trump to attack him.
"Obviously they must be concerned about something," Rubio said of the Cruz campaign at a stop along the Mississippi river in Muscatine. "You don’t spend money against a candidate if you’re not concerned about them."
But Rubio's top aides also fiercely denied that a good debate performance Thursday, and the new concern from Cruz, could give the Florida senator a shot at second place in the Iowa caucuses, behind Cruz or Trump. "There is no question we are feeling some wind at our back," said Todd Harris, Rubio's political strategist. "And there’s no question that we had a great debate night, but it’s very hard to compete with the greatest show on earth and the greatest ground game in Iowa history. And so we feel very confident that what we need to do here is finish a strong third."
Asked directly if Rubio might finish in first or second place, Harris jokingly told the reporter to buzz off, though he used a different, unprintable word. Then Harris suggested how the reporter might write his comment in an article. "Asked whether second or first was in the cards, Rubio strategist Todd Harris said, and I’m quoting, f--- off," Harris said.
The Rubio team, who is feeling good about its momentum in Iowa, does not want to raise expectations that might reduce the bounce a third place finish gives Rubio as the campaign shifts to New Hampshire next week.
Rubio, meanwhile, responded to the news of Cruz's new attack ads with a blistering counter assault on on his rival, accusing the Texas senator of a "history of calculation" rather than a pattern of being consistently conservative.
"Obviously Senator Cruz is worried about my candidacy," Rubio continued, before launching into an attack on his fellow freshman senator. "And he has a lot to answer for. Just today you saw we’re showing people a tweet that he put out during the immigration debate where he talked about how he supported legalization. So I think people are starting to learn the truth about Ted on immigration and a bunch of other issues, and it shows a history of calculation and I think it’s starting to hurt him a little bit."
Recent polls show Rubio approaching 20 percent in surveys of likely Iowa caucus-goers, just points behind Cruz and Trump, who are battling it out for first place. "We’ll see what it all turns into but, man, it’s par for the course," Rubio added.
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Later, Rubio launched into a laundry list of attacks against Cruz highlighting past positions deemed to be inconsistently conservative, including work for George W. Bush's immigration policies, his past support for legal status for some in the U.S. illegally, and support for the expansion of legal immigration. "Suddenly he’s against all of that because he wants to trump Trump on immigration," Rubio said.
Rubio also blasted Cruz for appearing to shift his support for the renewable fuels standard, talking tough on China after defending a Chinese company accused of stealing U.S. intellectual property, and his bombast against ISIS while supporting cuts to military spending.