Cruz enters debate after big victory but on defensive about winning tactics

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Ted Cruz would like to ride the momentum of his Iowa victory through Saturday night’s GOP presidential debate, but the Texas senator will likely have to instead spend time answering questions about his campaign’s questionable Iowa Caucus-night tactics and its integrity.

Cruz has faced a steady stream of criticism from fellow primary candidates Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, whom the Cruz campaign suggested was dropping out of the race after Iowa, in an apparent effort to snag his trove of social conservative votes.

Cruz, Carson and Trump, the billionaire businessman and GOP national front-runner, will be joined on stage at the ABC debate at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

After poor showings Tuesday in Iowa, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee suspended their campaigns.

Ex Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore failed to qualify for the debate.

Fiorina, who did better in Iowa than other candidates who will be on the stage, is furious at the decision but vowed Saturday to continue her campaign.

“The media has decided that it knows better than you,” she told supporters at a rally in New Hampshire, which holds its primaries Tuesday. “I will never stop fighting and neither can you.”

Trump has dominated the 2016 GOP election cycle and public polls but finds himself in the unusual position of having to mount a comeback after losing to Cruz in Iowa.

Though Trump lost, he leads the rest of the Republican field by double-digits going into the New Hampshire primary and is projected to win, which makes him an obvious target in the debate.

However, Rubio, who is now in second in New Hampshire, is emerging as the GOP establishment candidate and perhaps the most electable Republican in the general election, making him a target on multiple fronts.

Christie, Kasich and Bush, the other establishment candidates, must do well in New Hampshire to keep their campaigns alive, which means they could likely team up on Rubio.

In Iowa, Cruz supporters used a news report that Carson was returning to his home in Florida to suggest he was suspending his campaign. And the campaign sent out a mailer before caucus night suggesting to voters that they violated voting regulations and could resolve them by picking Cruz.

Cruz has apologies and the campaign has acknowledged some questionable tactics.

On Saturday, Carson returned to the issues by saying he won’t quit, considering how hard his team and supporters, including a young volunteer who died in a vehicle accident in Iowa, have worked for him.

“Yeah, right,” he said.