Texas Senator Ted Cruz intensified his rhetoric this weekend in Iowa as he sought to compete with Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on tough talk about killing Islamic State terrorists.
"We will carpet bomb them into oblivion," Cruz said at a multi-candidate event in Cedar Rapids sponsored by the Tea Party-aligned FreedomWorks group. "I don't know if sand can glow in the dark, but we're going to find out."
Cruz received loud applause throughout his speech from the more than 1,500 people in attendance and got a standing ovation as he left the stage. It was a strong showing for Cruz ahead of the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, although a significant proportion of the crowd was from outside the state.
Like Trump and others in the race, Cruz has been giving national security topics more emphasis in recent weeks following the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, California—termed an "act of terrorism" by the FBI—and also a much deadlier attack on civilians in Paris last month.
Cruz has benefited more than any other Republican candidate from the decline of Ben Carson, with his poll numbers in Iowa and nationally moving up in recent weeks as the retired neurosurgeon's numbers began sliding.
For his part, Carson called for more military muscle in the Middle East to fight the Islamic State. "If we really want to take care of our people over here, we need to get rid of them over there," he said.
Carson questioned why American planes aren't doing more to strike oil tanker trucks in the region. "You can't fight a politically correct war," he said. "Even if you do want to be politically correct, just say, 'If you drive it out of there, we're going to bomb it.' Just tell them ahead of time."
Speaking to reporters later, Carson downplayed Cruz's growing strength in polls. "Poll numbers go up and down," he said. "I do not worry about anyone, specifically."
Carson also defended his mispronunciation of Hamas, the militant Palestinian movement, in a speech this week in Washington. "I said hummus and then I corrected it in the same sentence and said Hamas. But do they talk about that?" he said. "Do people make mistakes sometimes when they're speaking?"
The retired doctor and Cruz were two of the five candidates who spoke at what was the last multi-candidate event in Iowa before a late-January debate, which takes place just days before the caucuses.
The audience was intensely partisan. During a speech from a non-presidential candidate, one man yelled "Obama dead!" after the speaker said he was about to deliver some good news.
In his speech, Cruz told those in the arena that the "left has their eyes closed to the reality, the dangers of this world."
Cruz strongly rejected calls for stricter gun-control laws in the wake of recent mass shootings. "You don't stop the bad guys by taking away our guns," Cruz said. "You stop the bad guys by using our guns."
The Second Amendment, he said, is more crucial now than ever because it was designed as a "check on government tyranny."
Prior to his speech, Cruz said he was open to American troops on the ground in the Middle East to defeat the Islamic State. "If boots on the ground are necessary, we should do what is militarily necessary," he said. "We need to start with using overwhelming airpower."
Outsiders and Insiders
Senator Rand Paul told reporters before his speech that Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is quickly becoming "the establishment candidate" because of his support for military intervention in Syria. The Kentucky senator generally favors limited use of America's military clout.
Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina also spoke at the nearly five-hour-long event, which finished just ahead of the University of Iowa's Big Ten championship game against Michigan State.
Dave Meggers, a farmer from Donahue, Iowa, was one of those in attendance at the event. After backing former Texas Governor Rick Perry in 2012, Meggers said he's leaning toward Cruz, Carson, or Rubio.
Trump, Meggers said, isn't providing enough specific information, although he's glad he's in the race, for now. "I keep thinking that he's going to shoot himself in the foot, but that hasn’t happened," he said. "But I like having him in the race because it makes people listen."