IOWA CITY -- "Have you seen this?" asked a campaign aide for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). He held up a smartphone with a photo of a mailer that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was bombarding Iowans with -- an "Iowa caucus report card," listing how many of the last four caucuses the recipient had been able to vote in.
The audacity took Cruz's team by surprise. For 24 hours, Rubio and other Republican rivals in Iowa had been condemning a Cruz mailer designed as a warning of possible "voter violations." Donald Trump called it "dishonest and deceptive," and suggested (incorrectly) that Cruz was under investigation. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is stubbornly taking libertarian voters whom Cruz wants, called it "kind of creepy" and reminiscent of "a lot of the stuff I don't really like about government."
Today, as the candidate barnstorms eastern Iowa, his campaign is pushing back by asking where Cruz gets off. Former Iowa secretary of state Matt Schultz, Cruz's state chairman, who had given a plaintive radio interview apologizing to voters offended by the mailer, told The Washington Post today that Rubio wanted to have it both ways.
"It's kind of bizarre to go out and attack us for something you're intending to do yourself," said Schultz. "It's just typical of Marco, wanting to be on every side of an issue. I've seen similar mailers in other parts of the country. I've read the social science. So it's just bizarre, in Marco's words from the Sunday shows, to act offended."
Rubio's campaign, which has gotten plenty of support on social media over the mailer story, pointed out that the "report card" mailer -- the Cruz campaign smoking gun -- was provided to media outlets. The generic version had been given to Time magazine's Zeke Miller for a story about how Rubio's version of the "social pressure" pitch did not trip the same wires as Cruz's.
"We've been sharing our mailer with press as a contrast to Cruz to prove our point," said Cruz spokesman Alex Conant. "We didn't single out specific voters."
The idea of telling reporters to vote by showing them how frequently their neighbors voted had been pushed by political scientists for nearly a decade — one reason the backlash has surprised Cruz's campaign. And according to Chris Larimer, a University of Northern Iowa political scientist whose 2008 work on "social pressure" inspired umpteen mailers like this, the Rubio piece was not as risky as the Cruz piece. Where Cruz's mailer suggested that voters might be violating a state standard if they failed to vote, Rubio's simply nudged them to turn out.