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Ted Cruz slammed for creepy mailers shaming Iowans for a bogus ‘voting violation’

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Ted Cruz has come under fire just two days before the Iowa caucuses for sending mailers to voters here that accuse them of a “voting violation”, earning the Texas senator and his campaign a formal denunciation by top officials in the first-in-the-nation voting state.

Related: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton lead Des Moines Register poll as Iowa caucus approaches – live

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The mailers, which came to light on Friday and were confirmed by Cruz’s campaign as their own, include a voting score and the phrase “official public record”. They call out by name not only the recipients, but also their neighbors, as part of a broader attempt to shame Iowans for not having participated in prior elections.

Paul Pate, Iowa’s Republican secretary of state, condemned Cruz’s campaign on Saturday for distributing the mailers. He said the strategy “misrepresents the role of my office, and worse, misrepresents Iowa election law”.

“Accusing citizens of Iowa of a ‘voting violation’ based on Iowa caucus participation, or lack thereof, is false representation of an official act,” Pate said in a statement.

“There is no such thing as an election violation related to frequency of voting. Any insinuation or statement to the contrary is wrong and I believe it is not in keeping in the spirit of the Iowa caucuses.”

Cruz struck a defiant tone in a swift response: “I apologize to nobody for using every tool we can to encourage Iowa voters to come out and vote,” he said at a press conference in Sioux City on Saturday evening. The senator went on to argue that the Iowa Republican Party had previously used such mailers and characterized them as “routine”.

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The literature was “a standard mailer that folks at the Iowa Republican party and other get-out-the-vote groups have used to help motivate low-propensity voters,” said Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier. “We’re going to do everything we can to turn these folks out.”

Matt Schultz, Cruz’s Iowa state chairman and a former secretary of state here, added that the mailer was modelled after similar mailers in the 2014 midterm elections that were sent out by the Republican party of Iowa.

Those mailers, he said, “helped elect numerous Republican candidates during that cycle”.

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Steve Deace, an influential conservative radio host and key surrogate for Cruz, also dismissed the backlash – after he initially declared that the mailers were fake, and corrected himself later.

Related: Donald Trump sidelined as rivals debate without Republican frontrunner

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“Watching the same people not outraged when Cruz was called a fake Christian now pretend to be outraged by a mailer is, well, horse puckey,” Deacewrote on Twitter.

Even so, Cruz’s tactics raised eyebrows across the political spectrum for their directness. One Iowan tweeted his outrage with a picture of the mailer, which included an F rating for how he had voted in the past. The man said he had not been planning to caucus, but upon receiving the mailer he was, in fact, persuaded to caucus – for Florida senator Marco Rubio, one of Cruz’s chief opponents.

Asked about the mailers on Saturday, Rubio told reporters he had heard about them from voters who were upset and “disturbed”.

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“It’s kind of an unusual way to end your campaign in a state,” Rubio said.

“It doesn’t sound like he’s feeling too good. It sounds like he’s under pressure and maybe not reacting very well to it, which his problematic because presidents are under pressure every day.”

  • Additional reporting by Ben Jacobs in Sioux City, Iowa

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2016


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