Republican presidential candidate former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaks during the Sunshine Summit conference being held at the Rosen Shingle Creek on Nov. 14, 2015 in Orlando, Fla.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty

Ted Cruz takes shots from social conservative candidates

Now that Sen. Ted Cruz has firmly established himself as the front-runner in the crucial early voting state of Iowa, his Republican 2016 rivals are hitting him hard on his presumed strength – his record of social conservatism.

On Sunday, Rick Santorum, who surprised pundits by eking out a narrow victory in the state back in 2012, released a new ad calling Cruz’s conservative bona fides into question.

“Ted Cruz is wonderful at ready children’s fairy tales on the Senate floor,” an ominous voiceover intones in the ad over footage of the Texas lawmaker’s infamous recital of Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” during his anti-Obamacare marathon speech in 2013. The ad then pivots to highlighting Santorum’s record on foreign policy, including a soundbite from a 2016 debate where he says “not all Muslims are jihadists … but the reality is all jihadists are Muslim.”

The spot wraps up with a shot of Cruz reading a bedtime story to his children, and says “serious times need serious people.”

Cruz’s slow and steady rise started to show dividends in Iowa late last year. He has consistently led in Republican primary polls there, and his opponents are well aware that a momentum building victory there could carry the senator to nomination.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won Iowa in 2008 and is banking his campaign on a strong showing with social conservatives there, has also taken a shot at Cruz. In an ad from his Super PAC, footage highlights “Two Teds,” contrasting public statements Cruz has made about curtailing same-sex marriage with private remarks that the issue is not a top priority for him.

And Huckabee and Santorum’s attacks come on the heels of an Iowa Republican article which called Cruz a “false prophet of social conservatism.”

“Cruz recently flip-flopped on the issue of marijuana legalization,” wrote the Editor-in-Chief Craig Robinson. “Just like his answer on gay marriage, Cruz said, ‘If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.’ Cruz’s position is one that is easy for him to defend and frankly is rather politically expedient, but it also can get him crossways with social conservatives in a hurry.”

So far, Cruz has remained above the fray. With the exception of some back-and-forth with his establishment foe, Sen. Marco Rubio, the Texas senator has, for the most part, stubbornly refused to feud with his GOP opponents.

Meanwhile, Huckabee and Santorum have struggled to get a foothold in Republican primary polls. Santorum has never been able to break into the top-tier of GOP contenders, and Huckabee hasn’t gained momentum either despite some memorable moments during the prime-time Republican debates. The Iowa Caucuses will be held on February 1, so the window for them and several other candidates to gain traction with voters is rapidly closing.

The presidential campaign: Ted Cruz
The Texas senator was first to announce his bid back in March, and has since been carefully laying the groundwork for a come-from-behind primary victory.