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Sweet: Trump and Cruz clash over U.S. citizenship, N.Y. values in GOP debate

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WASHINGTON – Oh, Canada. Oh, New York values.

Frontrunner Donald Trump clashed with Ted Cruz in the Republican primary debate Thursday, questioning whether Cruz, the son of an American woman born in Canada, qualified for the presidency as a natural born citizen.

And Trump adamantly defended his New York home in the wake of Cruz trying to cut into his support by saying earlier this week he represented “New York values” – not a compliment.

Asked to explain what he meant by that shot, Cruz said, “Everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro-gay marriage, focus around money and the media. “

The often bombastic Trump quietly talked about New York and the 9-11 attacks, concluding, “And I have to tell you, that was a very insulting statement that Ted made.”

At the end of the debate in South Carolina, Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, did nothing to change the course of his failing bid. However, Carson did not take the bait when asked what he thought “of the notion that Hillary Clinton is an enabler of sexual misconduct.”

OPINION

Follow @LynnSweet

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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush played statesman, noting that as “wild and woolly as it’s going to be” in the primary, the rivals need to “get used to it” because “at the end of the day we need to unite behind the winner so we can defeat Hillary Clinton, because she is a disaster.”

Let’s back up, to Canada and the Cruz “birther” matter.

“If you become the nominee, who the hell knows if you can serve in office,” Trump said, urging him to go to court to let a judge decide . . . “There’s a big question mark on your head. And you can’t do that to the party.”

Cruz, the Texas senator, came to the debate prepared for his Canadian birth to come up. Trump, the billionaire developer and reality show star, has been flagging it more as Cruz has risen in polls to be his chief rival. Though there were seven men on stage, for a few minutes, it seemed like a Trump/Cruz show.

At first Cruz tried to downplay the issue of his birth when he was invited by Fox Business News moderator Neil Cavuto to clear things up “once and for all.”

“Well, Neil, I’m glad we’re focusing on the important topics of the evening.”

Next, Cruz tried, not too successfully, to assert Trump may be disqualified for the White House “because Donald’s mother was born in Scotland.”

“…Donald, I’m not going to use your mother’s birth against you.

Snapped back Trump, “OK, good. Because it wouldn’t work.”

Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, finally elbowed his way into the exchange by joking, “I hate to interrupt this episode of Court TV.”

The six other top GOP candidates took to the stage with Cruz, who is rising in the polls and presents a temping target. He has been on the defensive over his Canadian birth and on top of that, the New York Times on Thursday reported that loans Cruz got from Goldman Sachs — where his wife Heidi worked — were not disclosed to the Federal Election Commission.

Cruz dismissed it as a “paperwork error” and a hit job from the paper.

The potential political damage is not in getting a slap from the FEC. It’s that a boost from Wall Street runs counter to the populist image Cruz cultivates as the Princeton and Harvard grad who denounces Wall Street bailouts.

The sixth Republican debate, at the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center in South Carolina, is the second to last before the first 2016 votes are cast in the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus.

The debate, hosted by the Fox Business Network, takes place in an unusual campaign cycle dominated by Trump, who continues to run first in national polls. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey shows Trump extending his lead and receiving support from a third of Republican primary voters, compared to 20 percent for Cruz, 13 percent for Rubio, 12 percent for Carson and the rest in single digits.

FIORINA SHOT AT CLINTON

The undercard debate featured former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., refusing to be part of the second-tier program.

The most memorable line came from Fiorina, aiming at Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Said Fiorina, “And unlike another woman in this race, I actually love spending time with my husband.”

Tweets by @lynnsweet

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