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Republican Presidential Contenders Wage Fierce Struggle in Iowa


Reminiscent of the Charles Dickens classic, “A Tale of Two Cities,” the presidential campaigns of Republicans Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush seem to be in very different places ahead of Monday's first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.

Cruz is busy chasing front-runner Donald Trump and trying to prevent rival Senator Marco Rubio of Florida from overtaking him in the final stage of the Iowa campaign. Rubio has accused Cruz of a variety of “kitchen sink” attacks in the wake of the latest debate, which saw the two men clash sharply over their shifting views on immigration.

Large Cruz crowd

One of Cruz's several campaign stops Saturday was Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State University. After introductions by U.S. Representative Steve King of Iowa and talk-show host Glenn Beck, Cruz got down to business.

“This is your time," he told the crowd. "This is for the men and women of Iowa and the time to make a decision.”

Cruz drew a large crowd that crammed into a hotel ballroom to hear the Texas senator harken back to the days of former President Ronald Reagan and his vision for a new American future.

“We have faced these challenges before," Cruz said. "We have faced the abyss before and the American people came together and pulled this country back. We have done it before, and if we stand together we can do it again, and we can restore that last, best hope for mankind that is the United States of America.”

Out-of-state observers

After the event, two men engaged in an intense discussion about Cruz. Paul, a local organizer for Cruz who did not want to give his last name, said he was committed to supporting Cruz at his caucus. “He's a consistent conservative, he's trusted and he does what he says what he's going to do,” Paul said.

Paul was discussing Cruz with Michael Bruce, who had traveled from Kansas to try to ask the candidates questions. “And what I appreciate about Cruz is that this young man has started a people's revolution,” he said.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, hugs an audience member during a campaign event at Greasewood Flats Ranch in Carroll, Iowa, Jan. 29, 2016.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, hugs an audience member during a campaign event at Greasewood Flats Ranch in Carroll, Iowa, Jan. 29, 2016.

Low-key gathering for Bush

Compared with the frenzy of activity at the Cruz rally, the campaign scene a day earlier and an hour to the west in the small town of Carroll was far different. There, several dozen Iowans waited patiently to ask questions of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. The modest crowd seemed to symbolize Bush's struggles in Iowa, where he lags far behind Trump, Cruz and Rubio.

When he meets Iowa voters, Bush emphasizes his experience as governor and family background.

“When you are a leader, you have a focus on moving towards the fire to take it out, to solve the problems, and that's what we need in Washington, D.C., right now,” he said.

Bush also seeks to distinguish himself from other, more angry voices in the primary battle by trying to win over voters with an upbeat message.

“I think first having a proven record of accomplishment and being thoroughly vetted and campaigning with a hopeful and optimistic message with your arms wide open," he said. "We are never going to win as conservatives if we are the reactionary party.”

Mixed reaction

Bush has success with some Iowans, like Cindy Bruggeman, who traveled 50 miles with her husband to attend the event in Carroll.

“We are going to go to a caucus for the first time Monday night, and that is where we'll put our faith in him,” she said.

But another woman, who declined to give her name, turned her face into a scowl when asked whether she was ready to support Bush. “Well, I, I'm not saying,” she said. When asked whether she had made up her mind about her caucus choice on Monday, she blurted out a quick “Nope.”

Opposite directions

With the caucuses drawing ever nearer, Bush and Cruz find themselves in different positions. Cruz is battling with Trump for the top spot in Iowa, and a Cruz victory here would make him a serious contender for the party nomination, fueling his drive in the upcoming primaries.

Bush, on the other hand, is hoping to stay relevant. Candidates who can survive Iowa get to compete in New Hampshire and the primaries beyond, and the Bush family has a record of success in some of the early primary states, especially South Carolina, which votes later in February.

But watching the urgency with which Bush and Cruz cultivated voters at their rallies, it was clear that the candidates realize that the time for talking is almost at an end. On Monday night, the voters of Iowa will have their opportunity to render their judgment and fire off the first official salvo of the 2016 presidential campaign.

WATCH: Some Iowa Victors Go All the Way, Others Fade Away

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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