IOWA CITY, Iowa — Supporters of Mike Huckabee are launching a TV attack ad here in the final days of the race that casts Ted Cruz as a charlatan feigning intense Christian devotion to win votes.
The ad, which is being aired by the pro-Huckabee super PAC Pursuing America's Greatness and was previewed for BuzzFeed News, depicts two women chatting prior to a group Bible study about the upcoming Iowa caucuses. The women are shown discussing recent leaked comments in which Cruz privately told donors he wouldn't prioritize fighting same-sex marriage if he was elected; they also talk about Cruz's reportedly meager record of charitable giving.
The super PAC says it is spending just over $400,000 to get the ad on TV in the final six days of the race. Paired with another commercial that attacks both Cruz and Trump as unserious, the group will spend over $1.1 million in a last-ditch effort to shake up the field in hopes that Huckabee — currently polling at around 2% in the state — will benefit.
The commercial is a TV adaptation of a radio ad that was launched last week by a new anti-Cruz group, as first reported by Politico. (Both ads were produced by Ohio-based Republican strategist Nick Everhart.)
"He doesn't tithe?" one woman says in the ad. "A millionaire that brags about his faith all the time?"
"Just what we need — another phony," the second woman responds.
The ad ends with the first woman concluding, "Guess we've narrowed down our list. Can't caucus for Cruz," while her friends nods solemnly in agreement.
Nick Ryan, who runs Pursuing America's Greatness, said the goal of the new ad is to expose Cruz as disingenuous when it comes to matters of faith and conservative values.
"They think they own the evangelical vote," Ryan said of the Cruz campaign. "I think it's important that those voters, as they go through their final discernment, really look at who Ted Cruz is, and how he's chosen to live his life."
Ryan said he believed evangelical voters would find it especially revealing that Cruz donated less than 1% of his income to charity between 2006 and 2010, according to tax returns he released.
"We're talking about someone who's not scraping by on a fixed income or something like that. We're talking about someone whose spouse was an executive in Goldman Sachs and who was a successful attorney," Ryan said, adding that Cruz was willing to contribute a sizable amount of money to his own campaign when he decided to run for Senate. "When the time came to choose to promote himself, he had no trouble coming up with ample resources."
As BuzzFeed News reported last week, some evangelicals are questioning Cruz's lack of charitable giving. But when Huckabee himself gave voice to those questions — first in an interview with BuzzFeed News, then on Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor — many critics said the line of attack was unfair, and perhaps even un-Christ-like.
Ryan disagreed, arguing that Cruz has invited a debate about these issues by making his faith an overt part of his candidacy. "That's the campaign he chose to run," Ryan said.
"I think that authenticity is something that the caucus-goers should struggle with in the final week as they prepare to vote," he said, adding, "Hopefully [this ad] allows Iowans to see a full picture of who Ted Cruz is."
A spokesman for Cruz did not respond to a request for comment.
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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