Ted Cruz's presidential campaign is zeroing in on female voters in Wisconsin following a chapter of the Republican race for the White House that shed more light than ever on Donald Trump's problems with the opposite gender.
Cruz launched the push Wednesday morning in Madison with the rollout of a Women for Cruz coalition, and his two top female surrogates — wife Heidi and rival-turned-supporter Carly Fiorina — are spending the afternoon and all of Thursday stumping for him across the Badger State.
"This event this morning is a celebration of strong women," Cruz declared, inviting on stage Heidi Cruz, Fiorina and his mother Eleanor, who made her first appearance of the sort on the campaign trail.
Trump hardly came up at the event, but the subtext was clear. The billionaire's attacks on Heidi Cruz, which began last week in response to ad from an anti-Trump group that featured the billionaire's wife, have drawn attention to his history of sexist and misogynistic comments — as well as his current struggles to gain traction among female voters.
Cruz's supporters in Wisconsin welcome the contrast, hopeful their state's battleground primary Tuesday could serve as the most prominent rebuke of Trump since he went on the offensive against Heidi Cruz.
"I definitely don’t think anybody has planned this, but it’s what’s happening," said Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, whose political arm endorsed Cruz on Wednesday. "We get to be the first ones to kind of have an overt response to it through the ballot box."
“We don’t need a Donald Trump to set us back another 100 years where we don’t matter and only looks matter," added Wisconsin state Rep. Kathy Bernier, who endorsed Cruz on Monday.
Cruz is easily beating Trump among women in Wisconsin, according to a Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday afternoon that found Cruz with a 10-point lead over Trump among all Republican primary voters. Cruz received 39 percent support from female voters, while Ohio Gov. John Kasich received 25 percent and Trump got 24 percent.
Cruz has suggested Trump's poor performance among women is no surprise, saying the billionaire's jabs at his wife and other working women prove he has "a real issue with strong women." Trump has insisted nothing could be further from the truth.
“Nobody respects women more than Donald Trump, and nobody will be better to women," Trump said at a rally Wednesday afternoon in Appleton, Wisconsin. "Nobody but Donald Trump, believe me."
By Wednesday afternoon, Trump was already giving Cruz's campaign more fodder to paint him as out of touch with women. In an interview with MSNBC, Trump had suggested "some form of punishment" for women who have abortions if the practice were outlawed, a position at odds with many anti-abortion advocates' belief that the women would be the victims in such cases. Later Wednesday afternoon, the billionaire issued a statement clarifying that abortion providers, not their patients, "would be held legally responsible" if the practice were against the law.
"Once again Donald Trump has demonstrated that he hasn’t seriously thought through the issues, and he’ll say anything just to get attention," Cruz said in a statement. "On the important issue of the sanctity of life, what’s far too often neglected is that being pro-life is not simply about the unborn child; it’s also about the mother — and creating a culture that respects her and embraces life."
"Of course we shouldn’t be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world," Cruz added.
Hours earlier, an uncharacteristically soft-spoken Cruz interjected only occasionally as the nearly hour-long discussion in Madison highlighted his role as a father, husband and son.
"I want all of the women here in Wisconsin and across this country to know how incredibly supportive Ted — in my view, the future president of our country — has always been of all the women in his life," Heidi Cruz said.
Earlier in the event, Cruz struck a more political note, accusing Democrats of seeking to "pigeonhole women."
"Well, listen, I have news from the Democratic Party: Women are not special interests," Cruz said. "Women are a majority of the United States of America, and every issue is a women's issue."
Later Wednesday, as the candidate headed to California for a taping of the late-night TV show "Jimmy Kimmel Live," his wife and Fiorina continued to tour the Badger State, holding meet and greets in Milwaukee, Sheboygan Falls and Fond du Lac. They were scheduled to complete another trio of meet and greets Thursday in Green Bay, Appleton and Wausau.
"The nation is watching, actually, the state of Wisconsin right now," Fiorina said at the event in Sheboygan Falls. "You have an opportunity to tell the nation, 'Actually, we figured it out. Donald Trump is a big act.'"