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For Cruz, Citizenship Continues to be Topic of Conversation

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz believes it is a settled issue that he is a natural-born citizen and thus eligible for the presidency. Yet his supporters — and critics — are still pressing him on the specifics surrounding his birth, which was outside the country to a mother who was born in the United States.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz speaks to supporters with his father Rafael, his wife Heidi and their children outside his new presidential campaign headquarters in Houston on March 31, 2015.

* Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

CHARITON, Iowa — They usually mean no offense, but every now and then, supporters of Ted Cruz bring up The Question.   

“I’m sure you’re aware that the Constitution requires the president to be a natural-born citizen,” David Bishop, a teacher, told Cruz during a stop Saturday night in this small southern Iowa city. “Don’t get this wrong: I’m supporting your candidacy, but I hope this doesn’t become an issue for you.”

The Question: Are you absolutely, positively sure that you are eligible to be president?

The answer is yes, according to Cruz, who has patiently explained — including to backers more than once Saturday in this early voting state — that he was born in Canada to a mother whose birthplace is Delaware and father who hails from Cuba. Many experts agree his mother's birth in the United States — and accompanying citizenship — makes him a natural-born citizen, regardless of where his father was born. 

“I have never breathed a breath of air on the planet Earth where I was not an American citizen,” Cruz ultimately old Bishop. “It was the act of being born to my mother that made me a citizen.”

More than eight months into his presidential campaign, Cruz is still running into lingering questions about his eligibility for the presidency — some friendlier than others. And while there are few signs the questions could seriously derail Cruz’s White House hopes, they appear destined to be a continued subject of curiosity, if not scrutiny.  

A reminder of that came Wednesday, when U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, promised he would launch a legal challenge to Cruz’s eligibility if the senator wins the GOP presidential nomination.

“The Constitution says natural-born Americans, so now we’re counting Canadians as natural-born Americans?” Grayson said on Fox News Radio. “How does that work? 

“I’m waiting for the moment that he gets the nomination and then I will file that beautiful lawsuit saying he’s unqualified for the job because he’s ineligible,” Grayson added. “Call me crazy, but I think that the president of America should be an American.”

Grayson’s musing came the day after the New Hampshire Ballot Commission rejected efforts to remove Cruz from the primary ballot there over his birth outside the United States. After a roughly 80-minute hearing Tuesday, the five-member panel unanimously voted to uphold Secretary of State Bill Gardner's decision to put Cruz on the ballot.

Yet in a ruling set to be released in the coming days, the commission is not expected to provide much relief for Cruz supporters worried about the issue — and could give more fodder to critics potentially lining up challenges in other states.

"It's not settled at all," said Brad Cook, a Manchester attorney who chairs the commission. "All we say is, 'Look, when there’s an unsettled question of law ... we’re not going to decide it.'" 

The courts have "never said anything when it comes to the presidency and natural born citizen despite all the stuff that was thrown at us from both sides," added Cook, a Republican.

In Chariton, Bishop asked Cruz to "cite me a court case" that backs up his argument he is a natural born citizen. Cruz conceded the issue "has not been litigated" but reiterated his belief that it is a straightforward question, with or without a precedent in the courts. 

Cruz has suggested that the issue was put to bed once and for all by a Harvard Law Review article published 12 days before he launched his campaign. In the article, two former top Justice Department lawyers, Paul Clement and Neal Katyal, wrote “there is no question that Senator Cruz has been a citizen from birth and is thus a ‘natural born Citizen’ within the meaning of the Constitution.”

“There are plenty of serious issues to debate in the upcoming presidential election cycle. The less time spent dealing with specious objections to candidate eligibility, the better,” said Clement and Katyal, who worked in the administrations of George W. Bush and Obama, respectively. 

Responding to questions about his citizenship Saturday in Iowa, Cruz pointed to at least two other presidential candidates who were born outside the United States but to American parents: John McCain, the Republican nominee in 2008, was born in Panama, while George Romney, who briefly ran for president in 1964, was born in Mexico. Cruz also noted Barry Goldwater, the GOP nominee in 1964, was born in Arizona when it was a territory, not yet part of the United States.  

Among Cruz’s GOP rivals, the issue has only tangentially flared up so far. After Cruz made clear his opposition to birthright citizenship in August, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suggested Cruz was among the GOP candidates who had benefited from it; Cruz countered that Bush was “getting confused between legal immigration and illegal immigration.” In May, a super PAC supporting U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky poked fun at Cruz’s birthplace in a video that labeled him the “capitulating Canadian” for voting for surveillance legislation backed by President Barack Obama.

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, with whom Cruz has maintained an alliance of sorts, has raised the issue in the past but appears to have backed away from it in recent months. "I hear it was checked out by every attorney and every which way and I understand Ted is in fine shape," Trump told ABC News in September.

Cruz was a dual citizen until last year, when he completed the process of renouncing his Canadian citizenship. The Dallas Morning News first drew attention to Cruz's dual citizenship in 2013, months after he won election to the U.S. Senate and was already seen as a potential presidential contender.

On Saturday, Cruz said he expects the issue to continue to be a political football.

“Will people raise this for political mischief? Sure. It’s politics. That’s what they do,” Cruz told Bishop, the teacher, in Chariton. “But as a legal matter ... it’s quite straightforward, and I don’t believe there is any impediment whatsoever.” 

It has not been lost on political observers that Cruz’s citizenship puts him in the same boat as another freshman senator who had his sights set on the White House: Barack Obama. The president was born in the United States — Hawaii — but like Cruz, one of his parents has a birthplace outside the country. (Obama's mother was born in Kansas and his father in Kenya.) 

Still, some Obama critics known as “birthers” remain skeptical that the president was born in the United States. That was manifested Saturday afternoon in Creston, Iowa, when, after a discussion with Cruz about his eligibility for the presidency, a man mentioned how “nobody knows” where Obama was born.

 “Well, I’ll leave that issue alone,” Cruz replied, “and just, uh, worry about the facts of my own birth.”

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Politics 2016 elections Ted Cruz