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In Final Iowa Push, Cruz Marks a Milestone

Shortly after 1 p.m. Monday, the junior Texas senator bounded off his campaign bus, strolled into a community center and laid claim to completing the Full Grassley. But did he?

Ted Cruz makes closing arguments for his candidacy in Des Moines on Jan. 31, 2016.

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

JEFFERSON, Iowa — It was not unlike most other stops Ted Cruz has made across this state in the final sprint to its first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Shortly after 1 p.m., the junior Texas senator bounded off his campaign bus, daughter in his arms, and strolled into a community center, a modest but not overwhelming press corps in tow. He stood, hands in pockets, watching wife Heidi introduce him inside a gymnasium as cameras clicked around him, some heads poking up in the audience.

Then he took the mic and made his claim official.

“We are with this stop completing the very last stop of the Full Grassley,” Cruz declared. “We have now been to all 99 counties in the great state of Iowa.”

Cruz has made much of the Full Grassley, a tradition named after the state’s senior senator. No other candidate with a shot at winning the caucuses this cycle has taken on the endeavor, let alone finished it. 

Cruz claimed to do so with just under six hours until the caucuses, marking the finish in this small city about an hour northwest of Des Moines. Yet there seemed to be an asterisk to the whole effort: Cruz had no sooner left Jefferson before the largest newspaper in the state, the Des Moines Register, said two of Cruz's 99 stops did not meet their definition of the feat.

Nonetheless, Cruz has touted his wide ranging travels as a sign of his commitment to the attention-hungry state, where he has locked in a tight race with a rival who has largely eschewed tradition: billionaire Donald Trump. Cruz has not been shy about wielding the Full Grassley effort against Trump and other opponents, suggesting they are giving short shrift to Iowa voters.

On Monday afternoon, he again hinted at the contrast, saying he has shown “the respect that I think any candidate who wants to win this state owes to the men and women of Iowa.” He added that it was “particularly fitting” he was completing the Full Grassley in a place that evokes Thomas Jefferson because the country’s “founding values” are at stake in the election. 

After the rally, during which Cruz delivered a stump speech and took a few questions from the audience, Cruz supporter Mike Hill said the senator's commitment to visiting all 99 counties did not personally matter to him — but he recognized the message it sends to Iowans.

"It does say a lot of the candidate to do that," said Hill, a small business owner from Jefferson. "He's taking time to do that, see as many people as you can, talk in person face-to-face, so I don't think it's a necessity, but it definitely is a good thing to do if you can."

Cruz was in and out of the Greene County Community Center in 90 minutes. By 2:30 p.m., he was en route to his final rally of the day before the caucuses begin, dialing into Sean Hannity's radio show. "I'm very much at peace," Cruz said, the Full Grassley supposedly behind him.

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2016 elections Ted Cruz