FREDERICK, Md. — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz brushed off any assumptions Thursday that his Republican rival, Donald Trump, has closed the deal on the GOP nomination and instead went after the real estate mogul on the hot-button issue of transgender rights.
In a speech in a conservative region of Maryland, Cruz honed in on Trump's comments earlier that morning on The Today Show related to a North Carolina state law that says individuals must use the public restroom that corresponds with one’s birth certificate gender. Many businesses and cultural icons have boycotted the Tarheel State in protest.
Trump argued Thursday morning for the previous status quo there, in order to avoid an economic backlash.
"There have been very few complaints the way it is," Trump told The Today Show. "People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate, there has been so little trouble."
Hours later in Maryland, Cruz gave his response: “Let me ask you, have we gone stark raving nuts?”
“I’m the father of two little girls,” he added. “Here is basic common sense: Grown adult men, strangers, should not be alone in a bathroom with little girls.”
Cruz further pounded Trump for his “political correctness.”
“I am waiting with anticipation for the new baseball cap, ‘Make P.C. Great Again,'” Cruz taunted.
The "bathroom" issue emerged in Cruz's hometown of Houston last year.
With marriage equality settled, the gay rights movement in Texas and other states has pivoted to discrimination protections for LGBT residents. But those efforts took a hit in November when Houston voters easily overturned a nondiscrimination ordinance, better known as HERO, that would have established protections for gay and transgender residents, among several other classes.
Cruz’s wife, Heidi, sat on a local business board that backed the Houston ordinance. But a Cruz campaign spokesperson told Buzzfeed earlier this year that Heidi Cruz is no longer a voting participant with the organization because of the campaign and that she is personally against it.
In Maryland, Cruz also mentioned Tuesday's New York primary results, drawing audience boos. Trump soundly beat Cruz in the Empire State, and his next slate of mid-Atlantic and New England states could prove similarly difficult for his campaign.
“Oddly enough, Donald Trump and the mainstream media seem to think that the state of Maryland is a suburb of New York City,” Cruz said. “Let me tell you, next Tuesday, the people of Maryland are going to have their opportunity to speak.”
Maryland is an intensely liberal state, but swaths of the state are deeply conservative.
Frederick, the place of the Cruz event Thursday, is only an hour northwest of Washington, D.C., but culturally, it is a world away. Western Maryland residents often share more common ground with their neighboring West Virginians than the liberal politics of the rest of the Washington and Baltimore metropolitan areas.
After Cruz's loss in the New York primary, it’s all but impossible now for him to defeat Trump before the Republican National Convention in July.
Instead, the aim is to prevent Trump from securing a majority of delegates and push the contest to a floor fight, an outcome for which the Cruz campaign is actively preparing.
Maryland will host its presidential primary on Tuesday, along with Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
So far, Cruz has only publicly campaigned in Maryland and Pennsylvania this week. And he heads to Indianapolis later Thursday, a state his team telegraphs he will compete in aggressively.
Alexa Ura contributed to this report.