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Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and his top challenger Ted Cruz clashed sharply on Thursday over the Texas senator having been born in Canada, with the real estate mogul saying Cruz had a question mark over his head that Democrats would exploit.

Cruz, who was born in Canada to a U.S. citizen mother and a Cuban father, accused Trump of bringing up the issue simply because Cruz was leading some polls in Iowa, the first state to hold a contest to select the party’s nominee for the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Cruz said Trump, who led the movement questioning whether the Hawaiian-born President Barack Obama was really born in the United States, had asked his lawyers to look into the issue of Cruz’s birth in September and concluded there were no issues.

“Since September, the Constitution hasn’t changed, but the poll numbers have,” Cruz said. “And I recognize that Donald is dismayed that his poll numbers are dropping in Iowa, but the facts and the law here are really clear.”

Trump said Democrats would sue if Cruz were on the Republican ticket, putting their party’s chances of winning at risk.

“There’s a big question mark on your head,” Trump told his rival, with whom he has had friendly relations over the past year on the campaign. “The Democrats are going to bring a lawsuit.”

He urged Cruz, who is a lawyer, to ask a court to put the question to rest.

“I’m not going to be taking legal advice from Donald Trump,” Cruz retorted.

Trump, who has proven to be a master at finding a perceived weakness in an opponent, has made an increasing issue of Cruz’s Canadian birth, suggesting it violated the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that only “natural born citizens” can be president.

The sixth Republican debate, at the North Charleston Coliseum in the swing state of South Carolina, takes place at a tense time for the Republican field with the clock ticking toward Feb. 1 in Iowa.

The top seven candidates ranked by Republican voters took part in the debate: real estate businessman and reality TV star Trump, Texas Senator Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Cruz has taken the lead in some polls of Iowa Republican voters. A victory there could propel him higher in the national race.

A Reuters/Ipsos rolling national poll on Jan. 12 showed Trump had 39 percent of the vote, Cruz 14.5 percent, Bush 10.6 percent, Carson 9.6 percent, while 6.7 percent favored Rubio, once viewed by the Republican establishment and many donors as a rising star.

For more on the 2016 presidential race, see the Reuters blog, “Tales from the Trail” (here)

(additional reporting by Emily Stephenson, Ginger Gibson, Megan Cassella; Writing by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; editing by Grant McCool)


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