Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump accused rival Ted Cruz of cheating to win the Iowa caucuses. The second-place finisher claims the senator from Texas misled voters to believe fellow candidate Ben Carson was quitting the race, and he is calling for a new election to take place or for Cruz's victory to be invalidated.
"Ted Cruz didn't win Iowa, he stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!" Trump said in a Twitter post Wednesday morning.
"Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified," he added in a subsequent tweet.
Tensions between the Carson and Cruz campaigns have simmered since Monday night's Iowa caucuses, when reports emerged, as voters filed into their voting precincts, that Carson would be leaving the campaign trail the following day to return home to Florida. Many interpreted it as a sign that he would drop out of the presidential race entirely, which Carson's team strongly denied. But on the ground, Cruz staffers at several precincts reportedly began telling voters about Carson's departure - potentially discouraging them from voting for Carson on the assumption that their votes would otherwise be wasted.
The rumor of Carson's imminent departure spread widely before the campaign could contain it. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a prominent figure and Iowa and a Cruz supporter, at one point tweeted: "Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope."
Cruz's first-place finish defied polling in the state, which indicated he was trailing Trump in the final days before the election. The real estate mogul ultimately came in second place, taking 24 percent of the vote to Cruz's 28 percent. Sen. Marco Rubio trailed just behind Trump in third place with 23 percent.
Carson - who finished fourth with 9 percent of the vote - had been sustained in Iowa by his large support among Christian evangelical voters despite a sharp decline in national polls since November. Cruz's campaign strategy and voter turnout effort rested heavily on courting those same voters, which the senator has pursued more persistently and aggressively than any other candidate next to Carson.
Although Iowa strategists long predicted that Carson's campaign did not have the organic support or campaign infrastructure to pull off a victory in the state, the campaign believed he could finish in the top three and ride the momentum into the next nominating contests. Other candidates have kept a careful eye on Carson's base in hopes of absorbing his voters if and when he drops out.
Carson and his campaign lashed out at Cruz Monday night, calling the victory "tainted." The doctor later said that Cruz had told him that he did know about the campaign's actions. And after initially downplaying the criticism, Cruz publicly apologized to the Carson campaign.
"He is a wonderful and talented individual, and I've thoroughly enjoyed our time together on the campaign trail," Cruz said of Carson in a statement to The Washington Post. "What the team then should have done was send around the follow-up statement from the Carson campaign clarifying that he was indeed staying in the race when that came out."
Carson accepted Cruz's apology Tuesday evening but continued to disparage the campaign's actions.
"These 'dirty tricks' political tactics are part of the reason Dr. Carson got into this race and reflect the 'Washington values' of win at all cost -- regardless of the damage to the country -- which he is trying to change," his campaign said in a statement. "This incident further demonstrates that we need an individual who is not a politician to lead and to heal our nation, not someone driven by ambition."
Cruz's communications director, Rick Tyler, addressing the allegations of misdeeds Tuesday morning - before Cruz issued the apology - said on MSNBC that "it's just false."
"We simply as a campaign repeated what Ben Carson had said in his own words. He said after Iowa he was going to go back to Florida for a couple of days and then he was going to go to D.C. to the prayer breakfast. And what that told us was he was not going to New Hampshire," he said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Tuesday. "That's not a 'dirty trick.' That was really surprising by a campaign who was once leading in Iowa saying he's not going to come to New Hampshire. That's a news item."
The Republican National Committee and the Iowa GOP did not immediately return requests for more information about how voter fraud complaints can be formally filed. The Cruz campaign did not immediately return a request for comment regarding Trump's call for a new election.