(WRIC) — The first GOP debate of the year was held Thursday and was highlighted by heated exchanges between Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
While Trump has led the GOP race for months, the Texas senator is on the rise in Iowa, where the Feb. 1 caucuses kick off voting in less than three weeks.
On Thursday, the two clashed over polls, values and even the Texas senator’s eligibility to serve as commander in chief. The billionaire businessman declared the eligibility issue could put the GOP at risk of a disastrous loss to Democrats.
“There is a big question mark on your head,” Trump told Cruz, who was born in Canada to an American mother. “You can’t do that to the party.”
It was one of many heated exchanges between a pair of candidates seeking to tap into support from voters who are angry and frustrated with Republican Party leaders as well as Democrats.
Cruz renewed his criticism of “New York values,” a coded questioning of Trump’s conservatism that elicited an unexpectedly emotional response from the real estate mogul about his hometown’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“No place on earth could have handled that more beautifully, more humanely than New York,” Trump said. “That was a very insulting statement that Ted made.”
At times, the contest between some of the more mainstream candidates seeking to emerge as an alternative to Trump and Cruz was just as fiery, particularly between Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Rubio likened Christie’s policies to President Barack Obama’s, particularly on guns, Planned Parenthood and education reform – an attack Christie declared false. Seeking to undermine Rubio’s qualifications for president, Christie suggested that senators “talk and talk and talk” while governors such as himself are “held accountable for everything you do.”
Still, Trump and Cruz dominated much of the prime-time debate, the first of the new year.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.