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Eye on Trump, Pro-Cruz Super PACs Launch Biggest TV Play Yet

A super PAC supporting U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is making its biggest investment yet in television advertising, reserving $2.5 million of airtime in Iowa and South Carolina with less than two weeks until the first nominating contests begin.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz speaks to a crowd gathered at Prime Time Restaurant in Guthrie Center, Iowa, on Monday, Jan. 4, 2016.

A super PAC supporting Ted Cruz is making its biggest investment yet in television advertising, reserving $2.5 million of airtime in Iowa and South Carolina with less than two weeks until the first nominating contests begin. 

The effort also comes as the U.S. senator from Texas wades deeper into a battle with billionaire Donald Trump that is expected to grow more contentious in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses — and possibly require help from outside forces. 

Keep the Promise I, one of four main super PACs backing Cruz, announced the $2.5 million buy late Monday, acknowledging Cruz is "facing vicious attacks designed to frighten voters rather than inform them." The buy more than doubles the group's initial investment in TV ads, which it announced last month as part of a $1 million media campaign in the first four early voting states.

The initial ad in the $2.5 million effort centers on a familiar theme: Cruz's trustworthiness as a conservative fighter. Titled "Record, not Rhetoric," the 30-second spot features Cruz saying he'll follow through on promises to voters and supporters giving high marks to his tenure in the Senate. 

"He actually went to Washington, D.C., and did what he told voters he was going to do," a Cruz backer says in the ad. "He sticks to his guns, doesn't apologize for what he has to say," another adds.

In a statement Monday on the $2.5 million buy, Keep the Promise I President Kellyanne Conway echoed two questions Cruz has been raising as he sharpens his contrasts with Trump: "Who can you trust?" and "Who has been there?" "A record — not rhetoric — shows who likes to fight for us, and who just likes to fight," Conway said. 

As it ramps up spending on TV time, Keep the Promise I and its affiliated groups are taking a more aggressive approach to Trump than ever before, starting with an online ad released Sunday. The minute-long spot, titled "Controversial," uses Trump's words against him, excerpting remarks he made at a fundraiser in 2014 in Florida, praising the senator for his fight against President Barack Obama's health care reform law. Keep the Promise I unveiled the ad hours after a TV interview aired in which Trump attacked Cruz as a "nasty guy" whom nobody likes.

"Primary contests can turn ugly, especially when frontrunners realize their lead is shrinking and that voters might prefer a solid record to snarky rhetoric," Conway said in a separate statement. "Mr. Trump launched a personal, uninitiated attack against Senator Ted Cruz by suggesting 'no one likes him.' But guess who likes Cruz? Donald Trump."

Keep the Promise III, another of the pro-Cruz super PACs, has also produced a Web ad critical of Trump. The 30-second spot, titled "Trump 'Different from Iowa,'" highlights a 1999 interview in which the billionaire chalked up his liberal stands on some issues to being from solidly Democratic New York. The ad ends with Cruz's observation from the most recent GOP debate that "not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan," followed by a suggested hashtag: "#CruzMicDrop."

The Keep the Promise super PACs have drawn attention for their reluctance to go big on TV ads until now, instead focusing on building a field operation in the early voting states and beyond, among other things. On Monday, Keep the Promise I branded the $2.5 million buy as in addition to an "intense ground game, massive digital efforts in early primary states and the Midwest, multi-million dollar radio campaign comprised of over a dozen ads, and large mail campaign" in Iowa as well as South Carolina.

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Politics 2016 elections Ted Cruz