Sen. Ted Cruz was in a groove in Iowa Monday, weighing in on issues that underscore his efforts to appeal to socially conservative voters in the nation's first caucus state.
The Texas Republican did so by blasting the Department of Education for allowing a transgender student to use a girl's locker room — and even weighed in on the availability of prophylactics in America, soundbites that could have been lead news in their own right on most any other day.
But it was Cruz's response to a question about access to contraceptives that generated perhaps the most buzz.
"Last I checked, we don't have a rubber shortage in America," Cruz told a crowd in Bettendorf, Iowa, as CNN and other outlets reported. "When I was in college we had a machine in the bathroom; you put 50 cents in and voila!"
Cruz argued that Democrats have conflated Republican opposition to abortion rights with opposition to contraception. "Now listen, I have been a conservative my entire life. I have never met anybody, any conservative who wants to ban contraceptives," Cruz said.
Democrats counter that GOP-backed legislation could inhibit access to some forms of contraception.
"His insistence that condoms are a substitute for the contraception many women need to prevent unintended pregnancies, and for other health reasons, shows he hasn't got a clue when it comes to women’s health," said Kaylie Hanson, the Democratic National Committee's director of women's media. "This is no laughing matter for millions of women who deserve access to the very health care that could be threatened if he were president, including survivors of rape and incest."
But for more conservative voters, Cruz's underlying point could very well resonate above the rhetoric. And the same might prove true of his criticism of a Department of Education ruling that a school district in Illinois ran afoul of Title IX in not allowing a transgender student to use a women's locker room.
In response to an inquiry from Roll Call, the Cruz campaign said the senator was referring to a Nov. 2 administrative ruling by the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights.
"The District has honored Student A's request to be treated as female in all respects except her request to be provided access to the girls' locker rooms at the School," the statement of facts in that matter said, as outlined in a letter from an Education Department office in Chicago to Township High School Superintendent Daniel Cates.
"[G]iven Student A's stated intention to change privately, the District could afford equal access to its locker rooms for all its students if it installed and maintained privacy curtains in its locker rooms in sufficient number to be reasonably available for any student who wants privacy," the letter said. "Here the totality of the circumstances weighs in favor of the District granting student A equal access to the girls' locker rooms, while protecting the privacy of its students."
Cruz was having none of that. "Look, my 5 year old daughter Catherine — she understands the difference between boys and girls. Now, if a local school board tried that, parents in Iowa would throw them out of office in a heartbeat," Cruz said.
Cruz made the argument in favor of local control of education, including when it comes to decisions about gender identity of student-athletes.
"It'd be real simple if a local school board said, 'you know what, your little daughter's got to shower with little boys in junior high,' you wouldn't sit still for a minute," Cruz told the Iowa town hall audience.
In response to the department's letter, the district said it would continue to seek a solution to the locker-room issue but warned against using it as a wedge issue.
"We celebrate and honor differences among all students and we condemn any vitriolic messages that disparage transgender identity or transgender students in any way. We believe that this particular moment can be one of unification as we strive to create environments that ensure sensitivity, inclusiveness and dignity for ALL students," the district said in a statement.