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Cruz Equates Trump With Illinois Democrats, Machine Politicians

Launching a daylong barnstorm of Illinois, U.S. Sen. Cruz equated Republican presidential opponent Donald Trump with the state's history of elected officials who have been accused of using their power for political gain.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas during a campaign rally at Gilley's in Dallas on Feb. 29, 2016.

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

ROCKFORD, Ill. — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday blasted rival Donald Trump for giving tens of thousands of dollars to two Democrats despised by Illinois Republicans: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. 

Launching a daylong tour of Illinois, Cruz equated the billionaire with the state's history of elected officials who have been accused of abusing their power for political gain.

"The people of Illinois are familiar with this. There have been Chicago mayors who demand fealty, perhaps on the knee," Cruz told reporters before a rally here. "That's a phrase Donald Trump likes. He likes suggesting that people come to him and they get down to him on their knees. If you like the abuse of power from Chicago Democrats, then Donald Trump is a great candidate."

Cruz's tour comes three days after Trump called off a rally in Chicago due to security concerns amid clashes between his supporters and protesters. The Texan is making five stops across Illinois on Monday, a day before nominating contests here and in four other states.

In Rockford and later in Glen Ellyn, a Chicago suburb, Cruz lit into Trump for supporting some of the "worst actors" in Chicago politics, suggesting Trump's tactics are not that different from those of the Democrats to whom he wrote checks. Cruz described to reporters in Rockford how Emanuel, elected with the help of a $50,000 donation from Trump, went on to pressure financial institutions to stop lending to gun makers unless they get on board with new restrictions.

"The bullying of Rahm Emanuel is entirely consistent with the bullying of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and maybe that's why Donald Trump gave $50,000 to fund Rahm Emanuel's bullying, left-wing tactics," Cruz said, referring to 2010 donations. 

The Texas senator also made hay of Trump's financial support for Blagojevich, who in 2011 was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison following a corruption scandal. Cruz said Trump has given $7,000 to Blagojevich. 

"I gotta tell you, never once was I tempted to write a check to 'Blago,'" Cruz told reporters in Rockford. In Glen Ellyn, Cruz jokingly speculated about Trump's method of donation, saying, "I don't actually know if he baked it in a cake and shipped it to him in prison."

Speaking later on the stage here at the Coronado theater, Cruz again ticked off Trump's donations to Democratic causes in Illinois — including the Cook County Democratic Party, "not exactly a bastion of integrity." He urged Illinois Republicans to take advantage of their new influence in the presidential race to stop Trump, warning that the billionaire "has been funding those same Democratic policies that have been foisted on the people of Illinois."

"Now help me on this: Have you ever had a moment when you're sitting at home and you've just had this incredible urge to give seven grand to Blago?" Cruz asked facetiously In Rockford. "Like what's going through your mind? Just how rich are you at that you've got 50 grand and you're thinking, 'I can think of nothing better to do than to give this to Rahm Emanuel and really hammer the people of Chicago.'"

Trump's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but he usually explains such donations by arguing they are standard practice in his line of work as a real estate developer. Cruz rejected that defense Monday.

"That's not a cost of doing business," Cruz told reporters. "That is supporting the corruption, supporting the failures of the left."

Cruz was barnstorming Illinois ahead of the winner-take-all contests Tuesday in Ohio and Florida, where Cruz rivals John Kasich and Marco Rubio are scrambling to shore up their support at home, respectively.  The Texas senator suggested Monday his opponents could still play a role in the race for the White House, telling reporters he could "absolutely see a place for John Kasich and Marco Rubio in an administration." 

As for Trump, Cruz said he still plans to support the billionaire if he is the nominee, a question Republicans are increasingly receiving as Trump pushes the envelope. Cruz found a new way to answer it Monday, keying off Trump's observation earlier this year that his backers would stick with him even through a violent crime.

"I can give you one example where I would not support Donald Trump," Cruz told reporters in Rockford. "If, for example, he were to go out on Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, I would not be willing to support Donald Trump."

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Politics 2016 elections Ted Cruz