ALTOONA, Iowa (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz received an anti-endorsement from the governor of Iowa, Tuesday, host of the country's lead-off presidential caucus, on account of his failure to support renewable fuels like ethanol.
Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican who has not endorsed any of the GOP presidential candidates for president, said at a renewable fuels conference near Des Moines that Iowans should reject Cruz because he supports phasing out the fuel standard.
His comments, which come within two weeks of the state's critical Feb. 1 caucus, could resonate with state farmers who grow the corn used in ethanol, and the soybeans widely used in biodiesel or risk getting trounced at the Iowa caucuses.
"We should not be supporting somebody who is opposing those things that are of critical importance to the economic well-being of our state," Branstad said.
Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, is a vocal supporter of his home state's oil industry, which generally opposes the use of ethanol, and has supported in the past ending the renewable fuels standard, a federal regulation that sets a minimum for the amount of ethanol blended in the nation's gasoline supply.
Asked if he wants to see Cruz defeated in Iowa, Branstad responded: "Yes."
"This would be a great way to send a strong message," the Iowa governor added.
Cruz has called for phasing out the fuel standard requirement over five years as part of his plan to end all energy subsidies and mandates. He authored a Senate bill in 2014 to end it by 2020.
Speaking to reporters in Center Barnstead, New Hampshire Tuesday, Cruz dismissed the governor's comments, saying the "Washington cartel" is beginning to panic over his gains.
"Iowa corn farmers are wonderful Americans, but Iowa corn farmers are not career politicians," Cruz said. "Iowa corn farmers are frustrated with career politicians. They're fed up with politicians who make deals every day to grow government, to expand the debt, to do things like fund Planned Parenthood, to do things like support Obamacare, to do things like give in to amnesty."
Rep. Steve King, who is backing Cruz, called Branstad's move an "unendorsment," adding that Branstad is, by default, supporting Donald Trump who is at the top of Iowa preference polls with Cruz.
King, who also attended the ethanol summit, argued that some critics are mischaracterizing Cruz's position, saying Cruz has supported phasing out the standard and not an immediate repeal as some have said.
Branstad said Cruz was not invited to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit, a trade show and gathering of farmers and the ethanol and biodiesel industry because he's not been supportive of biofuels.
Trump, however, was invited, and offered strong support for the renewable fuel standard.
"We are with you folks. We have been with you from day one," he told the crowd. About 700 people had registered to attend the event but many more were expected to show up for the major political speakers.
"Get out there and make plenty of fuel because we're going to need it," Trump said.
He called Branstad a respected man who people listen to when he speaks.
Also invited to speak were Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Carly Fiorina.
Also contributing to this report were Catherine Lucey in Des Moines, Iowa and Scott Bauer in Center Barnstead, New Hampshire.