Trump cheats Iowans by shunning debate, Cruz’s Bay State leader says

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BOSTON – Donald Trump’s decision to skip Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate came as a surprise to the head of  Ted Cruz’s campaign in Massachusetts, who said his candidate would have benefited from another chance to draw a contrast with the frontrunner.

“I don’t know how it’s going to impact the race at large, but I was certainly surprised that he was not going to show up tonight,” said state Rep. Jim Lyons, an Andover Republican. “It seems to me that the people of Iowa deserve to see a presidential candidate.”

Trump said Tuesday that he would skip the Fox News debate, the final matchup of the GOP presidential candidates before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, citing his dissatisfaction with moderator Megyn Kelly, a Fox host. The Republican National Committee earlier barred National Review from co-sponsoring the debate, citing its special edition denigrating the New York billionaire and former reality television star.

The latest national poll of likely Republican caucus-goers, a Marist survey released Thursday, put Trump in the lead in Iowa with 32 percent and Cruz, a Texas senator, in second at 25 percent. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida ranked third, with 18 percent.

Lyons said Cruz has gone from being “relatively unknown” six months ago to an apparent “dead heat” in Iowa.

“I think Senator Cruz looked for the opportunity to debate Donald Trump tonight,” Lyons said. “I don’t know how the whole debate’s going to play out tonight, but I think the more people see the differences between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the more people will come around to his side.”

After Trump said he would skip Thursday’s forum, Cruz offered to debate him one-on-one in a separate event. Lyons said he would welcome that opportunity and that Cruz’s conservative agenda stands distinct from “very liberal” positions Trump has taken in the past on issues like health care.

“If we want a consistent conservative to represent the viewpoints of Americans, there’s no comparison between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz,” Lyons said.

During an interview on Boston Herald Radio, Speaker Robert DeLeo, the Winthrop Democrat who leads the Massachusetts House of Representatives, said he was interested to see how many people watch the debate without Trump on stage.

“I hate to admit this on radio okay – and this is terrible – and of course I’m going to support the Democratic nominee, let’s make that very, very clear – but it is entertaining – the more people I talk to you know tell me the same thing – what’s better than to go home, put on the evening news and see some outrageous quote from Donald Trump to get you to start thinking about things?”

“Don’t you sort of say, ‘What’s he going to say today?’ And without him in that debate I’m not sure if they’re going to get numbers they got before,” DeLeo said. “It’s going to be interesting without The Donald.”

Written by Katie Lannan