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Ted Cruz aims to elbow out Ben Carson

<p>CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Ted Cruz returns to Iowa this weekend aiming to capitalize on Ben Carson’s precipitous decline and<b> </b>to establish himself as the anti-Washington candidate most qualified to be commander-in-chief. </p><p>Both Cruz and Carson will court voters at the last big cattle-call scheduled in Iowa before the Feb. 1 caucuses – an event hosted by the<b> </b>conservative group FreedomWorks. And while the event was meant to focus on economics, the emergence of security and foreign policy is climbing to the top of the agenda, giving Cruz the edge his supporters think he needs to elbow Carson out.</p><p>“Cruz has been the greatest recipient of Carson’s decline, and that is someone who we’ve always had our sights on, who I know Sen. Cruz has always had his sights on,” said Kellyanne Conway, president of Keep the Promise I, a super PAC backing Cruz.</p><p>Carson is doing much of the work for Cruz’s camp. The one-time poll leader is now plummeting in national surveys after displaying extraordinary difficulty grasping foreign policy issues. And that was before a widely mocked performance Thursday at the Republican Jewish Coalition where Carson read a factoid-laced speech about the history of Israel and repeatedly mispronounced the names of key actors in the Middle East, including Hamas.</p><p>“It’s like somebody just said [to Carson] ‘here’s the history of Israel. I got it off Wikipedia. Go charm them.’ That’s odd. That’s not very presidential,” Conway jabbed.</p><br><p>For months, the two have battled for support from evangelical voters in Iowa and nationally, and until recently, the soft-spoken former pediatric neurosurgeon was besting the senator. But in the wake of the Paris attacks, and as foreign policy and national security become front-burner issues for Republican primary voters, the politically inexperienced Carson has lost momentum. Polls here show that Cruz is the direct beneficiary of Carson’s tumble, and he is expected to capitalize before a crowd of more than 1,500 people this weekend.</p><p>“FreedomWorks is one of the last, largest gatherings in Iowa,” Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler said. “Iowans are soon going to be called to make up their minds and attend caucuses for one of the candidates. We look forward to the opportunity to present to those who maybe haven’t made up their minds now, are supporting someone else, to persuade them Sen. Cruz is the best choice for a strong leader who wants to keep America safe,” among other domestic goals.</p><p>While FreedomWorks traditionally has a more libertarian bent that doesn’t emphasize a hawkish national security approach, the Cruz campaign expects that many in attendance will be conservative activists eager to hear tough talk on ISIL, especially following news that one of the suspects involved in the San Bernardino, Calif. shooting reportedly expressed support for the terrorist group.</p><p>“After what’s happened in the last couple of days…safety in general is something that’s on everyone’s minds,” said Cruz Iowa Chairman Matt Schultz, the former Iowa secretary of state. “Whether it’s from domestic terrorism or foreign terrorism, the world is in flux right now. Iowans are looking for someone with strong principles, who they believe will keep them safe.”</p><br><p>Carson, for his part, has been trying to display newfound foreign policy credibility, traveling to Jordan last week to visit Syrian refugees and laying out a more detailed national security vision Wednesday at a commander-in-chief forum in South Carolina. But he drew far more headlines Thursday for his Republican Jewish Coalition speech, which reinforced perceptions that he is unprepared for the rigors of the White House.</p><p>The Carson campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story.</p><p>“After Paris, people have been wanting a national security president,” said influential Iowa pastor Jamie Johnson, who is not working for any of the GOP campaigns. “They’re not sure Ben Carson can be that.” </p><p>Cruz himself has come under fire from the right on national security, with Sen. Marco Rubio criticizing him for his opposition to renewing a National Security Agency metadata collection programs (a view shared by FreedomWorks), and the Wall Street Journal editorial board criticizing him for not backing sufficient intervention in Syria and Libya. </p><p>But for now, the biggest fight among conservative activists in Iowa appears to be between Cruz and Carson, and on that measure, plugged-in Iowans say, Cruz has the momentum. Both, however, lag the GOP’s overall poll leader – Donald Trump.</p><br>

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