Marco Rubio’s campaign accused Ted Cruz’s camp of "dirty tricks" Tuesday, after Cruz supporters in Hawaii blasted out an email suggesting the Florida senator was about to drop out of the race.
The email, sent by “Ted Cruz Hawaii,” cites a disputed CNN report claiming some Rubio advisers have told him to drop out of the 2016 race before Florida's primary next week, fearing he could be humiliated by a defeat in his home state.
“Privately, the campaign is having a debate about whether he should remain in the mix -- even for his home state of Florida's primary," the email said, going on to quote the report.
The email then quoted supposed Hawaii caucus-goers -- who were not named -- saying they don't want to "waste" their votes on a "likely dropout."
Rubio’s campaign already has adamantly denied the CNN report -- and when it turned up in the Hawaii email, immediately blasted Cruz for “dirty tricks.”
“Senator Cruz is up to his dirty tricks again spreading false rumors and lies. We won't allow him to do to Marco Rubio in Florida what he did to Ben Carson in Iowa," Rubio spokeman Joe Pounder said in a statement.
Hawaii is voting in the Republican contest Tuesday, along with Michigan, Mississippi and Idaho.
The anti-Rubio email marks the latest incident in which Cruz’s allies have spread drop-out rumors. On the night of the Iowa caucuses, Cruz representatives left recorded messages saying neurosurgeon Ben Carson was dropping out of the race, again citing a CNN report.
In that case, though, CNN only reported Carson was intending to return to Florida to get a change of clothes. In this case, Cruz supporters were more accurately citing the Rubio report -- but the Rubio campaign insists the report itself is false.
Cruz responded to the accusations during a taping for a Fox News town hall, to be aired Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET, saying the email came from someone not affiliated with the campaign.
“This particular email apparently came from a volunteer in Hawaii, not affiliated with the campaign, not working for the campaign, not under authorization for the campaign,” Cruz told Fox News' Megyn Kelly. “We have over 200,000 volunteers across the country, I cannot control, nor do I want to control what 200,000 volunteers do.”
He also said the CNN report was both legitimate and widely cited in outlets such as The Drudge Report.
“One volunteer sent out, and by the way, they forwarded a CNN story, that was the lead story on Drudge, is what the volunteer did. Now we asked them to take it down anyway,” Cruz said.
However Rubio's communications director said the example Cruz's supporters are following was set from the top.
"There is a pattern and a culture in the campaign, within the Cruz campaign where the truth just doesn't matter and it is set at the top," Alex Conant told Fox News' Gretchen Carlson.
A spokeswoman for the Cruz campaign told Fox News the website had not only been told to take down the email, but had also been told to cease using official campaign logos for any purpose.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the website for the organization – www.TedCruzHawaii.org – appeared to have been taken down.