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Trump holds big lead in first poll after anti-Muslim comments

Reuters survey shows frontrunner has 35% support of Republican voters, with 64% saying they weren’t offended by recent remarks

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a town hall style campaign rally at the Varied Industries Building at Iowa State Fair Grounds on December 11, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Steve Pope/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a town hall style campaign rally at the Varied Industries Building at Iowa State Fair Grounds on December 11, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Steve Pope/Getty Images)

Donald Trump is still far ahead of his rivals to win the Republican presidential nomination, according to the first opinion poll held after his comments calling for Muslims to be denied entry to the US.

The Reuters/Ipsos survey released Friday shows that 35 percent of Republican voters support the businessman, putting him far ahead of closest rival Ben Carson, who has the backing of just 12% of voters. Trailing the two were Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and former governor of Florida Jeb Bush, both with 10%.

While almost two-thirds (64%) of Republican voters said they were not offended by Trump’s remarks earlier this week, 41% did acknowledge that the comments could have a negative impact on his presidential prospects, Reuters said.

The poll also showed the difference between Democratic and Republican voters, with 72% of Democrats and 29% percent of Republicans saying they found Trump’s comments on Muslims offensive.

‘Easy’ target

Trump on Friday finally unleashed a verbal assault on Cruz — the one rival he has so far spared. The frontrunner went after the Texas senator at a town hall event in Iowa, accusing him of being beholden to big oil companies because he opposes ethanol subsidies, which are deeply popular in the agricultural state.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RB0B1Y7YIeA

“He’s a nice guy. I mean, everything I say he agrees with me, no matter what I say,” Trump began. “But with the ethanol, really, he’s got to come a long way.”

He added: “If Ted Cruz is against ethanol, how does he win in Iowa? Because that’s very anti-Iowa.”

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at the Heritage Foundation December 10, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at the Heritage Foundation December 10, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)

Trump also appeared to take a veiled shot at Cruz’s family background, suggesting Cruz might have trouble appealing to the state’s evangelical voters.

“I do like Ted Cruz, but not a lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba,” he said of the country where Cruz’s father, an evangelical preacher, was born.

The attacks came after word leaked that Cruz had questioned Trump’s judgment at a closed-door fundraiser, straining the rare détente between two of the race’s most outspoken candidates. Trump has gone after his other opponents gleefully and viciously, panning Jeb Bush as low-energy, Ben Carson as “pathological” and Marco Rubio as a lightweight who drinks too much water.

But the billionaire former reality TV host had refrained from attacking Cruz, even as the Texas senator has surged in opinion polls, becoming Trump’s most serious challenger in early-voting Iowa.

Trump previewed his attack lines on Twitter Friday morning.

Cruz “should not make statements behind closed doors to his bosses, he should bring them out into the open — more fun that way!” he wrote. Trump predicted Cruz would “fall like all others. Will be easy!”

The New York Times reported Thursday that Cruz had questioned whether Trump had the “judgment” to be president during a private fundraiser.

But Cruz appeared less-than-eager to engage on Friday.

“The Establishment’s only hope: Trump & me in a cage match,” he tweeted. “Sorry to disappoint — @realDonaldTrump is terrific. #DealWithIt”

Cruz’s campaign spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier, declined to comment on Trump’s attacks.

Several attendees at Trump’s town hall event said in interviews before he spoke that they were torn between supporting Trump and Cruz, underscoring the risks each man faces going after the other too strongly.

Indeed, Trump was relatively reserved in his criticism, repeatedly telling the crowd he liked Cruz even as he framed the contest as a two-person race.

Asked at one point whether he would consider selecting Cruz as his running mate or nominating him to the Supreme Court, Trump was receptive.

“I would say that we would certainly have things in mind for Ted,” he said.

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