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Cruz, "New York Values" Foe, Tests Waters in Empire State

Ted Cruz on Wednesday offered a preview of how he plans to reconcile his bashing of "New York values" with a new urgency to perform well in the state's Republican presidential primary.

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

Ted Cruz on Wednesday offered a preview of how he plans to reconcile his bashing of "New York values" with a new urgency to perform well in the state's Republican presidential primary. 

Speaking in Manhattan — just five blocks from the namesake tower of GOP rival Donald Trump — Cruz sought to find common cause with Empire State Republicans, noting Trump's donations to a who's who of liberal boogeymen in a pre-emptive strike on the billionaire's home turf.

"Y’all have seen firsthand the disasters that come from liberal Democratic policies that are foisted on the people of New York," Cruz said. "And yet Donald Trump over and over again has been supporting Andrew Cuomo and Hillary Clinton and Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer and Charlie Rangel."

"So the next time you think of all of the disastrous policies that have been foisted on the people of New York, you can thank Donald Trump for bankrolling those efforts," Cruz added, reprising a line of attack he had used against Trump in the run-up to the primary in another solidly blue state, Illinois, which Trump won this month.

Cruz's speech at the Women's National Republican Club in Midtown Manhattan came the morning after he split two nominating contests with Trump, easily beating him in Utah but coming up far short in Arizona. Cruz is scrambling to catch up with Trump in the hunt for delegates — 95 of whom will be up for grabs April 19 in Trump's home state of New York.  

In the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses two months ago, Cruz raised the specter of "New York values" to signal to Hawkeye State Republicans that Trump, with his playboy reputation, was culturally out of step with them. The gambit drew a fierce backlash from New Yorkers across the political spectrum, and many — not the least of which was Trump — questioned how Cruz expected to jibe with Empire State voters when it would be their turn to vote months later. 

"Remember 'New York values'?" Trump asked Monday at a news conference in Washington, D.C. "You think Ted Cruz is going to win New York? I don't think so."

Speaking with reporters after his remarks, Cruz said he is "not worried at all" that his use of the term "New York values" will come back to haunt him now that he's seeking New Yorkers' votes. "The people of New York understand firsthand the liberal left-wing values of New York politicians," Cruz added, citing the state's fracking ban pushed by Cuomo and alleged hostility toward charter schools by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

In his speech, Cruz had particularly harsh words for de Blasio, who criticized Cruz on Tuesday at a news conference for his suggestion that the city "secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized." After joking that he "must be doing something right" for de Blasio to denounce him upon his arrival in the Big Apple, Cruz went on to suggest that de Blasio was siding with terrorists over law enforcement, a group with which the mayor has had a fraught relationship.

"When the heroes of the NYPD stood up and turned their backs on Mayor de Blasio, they spoke not just for the men and women of New York but for Americans all across this nation," Cruz said, referring to a protest at a police officer's funeral last year. 

Cruz's trip to New York, which began Tuesday afternoon, has been consumed by his reaction to the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium. De Blasio was joined at the news conference by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who later said Cruz "doesn't know what the hell he is talking about" when it comes to fighting terrorism.

On Tuesday afternoon, Cruz held a private meeting in Midtown Manhattan with a number of prominent New York Republicans, including state party Chairman Ed Cox and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. The Daily Caller first reported the meeting.

In an interview Wednesday, Cox declined to say whether Cruz's "New York values" bit is a liability as April 19 nears, citing his neutrality in the primary as the leader of the state party. But Cox did say Cruz left an impression on him by choosing to spend Tuesday in New York when he could have picked Arizona or Utah, which were holding their nominating contests. 

Cox acknowledged Trump is the "hometown favorite" in New York but urged Cruz and Kasich against writing off the state. "That just means that the other candidates are going to have to come here and compete all the harder," Cox said. 

Cruz's campaign has made clear it does not plan to cede New York to Trump. A large majority of the state's 95 delegates are divided among 27 congressional districts, creating opportunities for Cruz to focus on the most conservative parts of an otherwise famously  blue state.

"I would look for a lot of ... Cruz activity in the state of New York," Cruz chief strategist Jason Johnson told reporters earlier this month, playing coy when asked if there are specific districts the campaign is targeting. "There are, and you'll see us there." 

On Wednesday, Cruz reiterated that he believes the Empire State, long irrelevant in Republican presidential politics, will be a "battleground" come April 19. 

"We are competing hard in the state of New York," Cruz said, "and I got to say: I think we have an inherent advantage because the people of New York know Donald Trump."

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Politics 2016 elections Ted Cruz