* Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are trading their first attack ads in the GOP presidential race as their rivalry reaches a new level of intensity.
The billionaire launched his offensive Friday morning, unveiling a commercial that portrays the U.S. senator from Texas as weak on illegal immigration. Cruz returned fire later in the morning with a spot of his own going after Trump over his support for eminent domain.
The 30-second video from the Cruz campaign calls eminent domain a "fancy term for politicians seizing private property to enrich the fat cats who bankroll them — like Trump." A narrator goes on to detail how the billionaire invoked eminent domain while seeking property from an elderly widow in Atlantic City, where he wanted to build a limousine parking lot for one of his casinos.
"Trump won't change the system. He's what's wrong with it," a narrator concludes in the spot.
Cruz's campaign unleashed the attack ad just hours after Trump released his, a minute-long commercial that zeroes in on an interview last month in which Cruz struggled to explain his involvement in immigration reform efforts in 2013. The spot then flashes back to Cruz introducing amendments to the so-called "Gang of Eight" legislation that has become toxic to many GOP primary voters.
"I want immigration reform to pass," Cruz is quoted as saying at the time, "and that allows those who are here illegally to come in out of the shadows."
Labeling Cruz "pro immigration" and "pro amnesty," the spot mocks Cruz's denial that his amendments would have allowed people in the country illegally to stay permanently and obtain legal status. "Yeah, right Ted," reads text on the screen after Cruz is shown insisting his amendments would not have done that.
Cruz's amendments would have nixed a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally but left in place a measure to grant them legal status. The commercial goes on to contrast Cruz's collective remarks on the Gang of Eight with an interview last week in which Trump spoke of the negative effects of illegal immigration and vowed to secure the border.
"People want to take back their country," Trump said in the interview with ABC News. "We have to do it in a humane way, but we have to have a country. We don't have a country right now."
Trump's campaign suggested Cruz's stuttering answers in the interview last month with Fox News host Bret Baier show he is a politician taking "advice from his pollsters, donors and the special interests who control him." In a statement accompanying the commercial, the billionaire expanded his criticism of Cruz.
“Ted Cruz is a total hypocrite and, until recently, a Canadian citizen who may not even have a legal right to run for President," Trump said. "He didn’t disclose loans, pretending he’s Robin Hood, when he’s just another all talk, no action politician. Had I not brought up the subject of illegal immigration, an issue which Ted Cruz is very weak on, nobody would even be talking about it. I will build a great wall, and Mexico will pay for it.”
Titled "Clear Difference," Trump's attack ad will run in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina as part of his plan to spend $2 million a week on TV advertising at this point, according to his campaign. Additional details about the Cruz ad were not immediately available.
The dueling ads come less than two weeks before the first-in-the-nation caucuses in Iowa, where recent polls have pointed to a tightening race between Cruz and Trump, once allies who refused to criticize one another. Immigration is among the issues on which the two candidates have started to exchange fire, with each accusing the other of being late to the cause.
Eminent domain has been a less-common point of contention between the Cruz and Trump, though the senator has been increasingly seizing on it. It was among the contrasts with Trump he volunteered while campaigning Monday in Whitefield, New Hampshire, where he criticized the billionaire in front of voters for the first time.
Trump's campaign is not the first to pounce of Cruz's amendments to the Gang of Eight bill, which passed the Senate but failed in the House. The campaign of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who helped author the legislation, spent most of December seeking to show Cruz's immigration views were not too different from Rubio's, citing the amendments as proof that Cruz is not the hardliner he claims to be on the issue.
Cruz's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump's ad. However, Cruz has argued that his amendments did not represent a de facto endorsement of the legal status provision.
“The fact that I introduced an amendment to remove part of the Gang of Eight bill doesn’t mean I support the rest of the Gang of Eight bill,” Cruz said in the same interview with Baier.