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Trump, Cruz go at it other

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz clashed Thursday night over the Texas senator’s eligibility to serve as commander in chief and the businessman’s “New York values,” ending months of civility between fiery contenders seeking to tap into voter anger and frustration.

More than two hours of prime-time argument presented voters with a sharp contrast to the optimistic vision of America that President Barack Obama painted in his State of the Union address earlier this week. The candidates warned of dire risks to national security if a Democrat is elected to succeed Obama and challenged claims of recent economic gains.

Heated exchanges between Trump and Cruz dominated much of the debate, with the real estate mogul saying the senator has a “big question mark” hanging over his candidacy given his birth in Canada to an American mother.

“You can’t do that to the party,” Trump declared.

Cruz suggested Trump was only turning on him because he’s challenging Trump’s lead, particularly in Iowa, which kicks off voting on Feb. 1.

Cruz renewed his criticism of Trump’s “New York values,” a coded questioning of his rival’s conservatism. But the barb appeared to backfire, eliciting an unexpectedly emotional response from Trump about his hometown’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York,” Trump said. “That was a very insulting statement that Ted made.”

At times, the contest between some of the more mainstream candidates seeking to emerge as an alternative to Trump and Cruz was just as fiery, particularly between Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Rubio likened Christie’s policies to President Obama’s, particularly on guns, Planned Parenthood and education reform – an attack Christie declared false. Seeking to undermine Rubio’s qualifications for president, Christie suggested that senators “talk and talk and talk” while governors such as himself are “held accountable for everything you do.”

Rubio entered the debate as the top target for most of the other establishment-minded candidates. He largely escaped the criticism of his Senate voting record and immigration policies that have dogged him on the campaign trail and in television advertisements blanketing airwaves in early voting states – until near the end when Cruz confronted him on immigration.

Rubio fired back by accusing Cruz of switching positions on immigration himself, then ticking off a litany of other areas where he said the Texas senator had flip-flopped.

“That is not consistent conservatism,” Rubio said. “That is political calculation.”

Cruz was also on the defensive about his failure to disclose on federal election forms some $1 million in loans from Wall Street banks during his 2012 Senate campaign. He said it was little more than a “paperwork error.”

Rubio and Christie are among the candidates seeking to break out of the establishment pack, particularly in the New Hampshire primary, which quickly follows the lead-off Iowa caucuses. The race in Iowa has settled into a tight, two-way contest between Trump and Cruz.

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