MADISON, Wis. — Ted Cruz surrounded himself with women — including his mother and wife — at a campaign stop in Wisconsin Wednesday, where he tried to show a softer side to further contrast himself with his brash Republican rival Donald Trump.
Cruz's wife, mother and former rival Carly Fiorina joined him for what Cruz called a "celebration of women." They cast Cruz as the best choice for women voters, while Trump continued to face questions about his defense of his campaign manager who was charged Tuesday with simple batter after an altercation with a female reporter.
Cruz and Trump have also been engaged in a nasty, personal battle that reached a high point last week when Cruz accused Trump and "his henchmen" of stoking false rumors that he'd cheated on his wife.
Critics have pointed to both developments as examples of why Trump will have a hard time attracting women in a prospective race against Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner.
"We don't want a president who traffics in sleaze and slime," Cruz said last week in Wisconsin. "We don't want a president who seems to have a real issue with strong women."
It was a soft-spoken Cruz who took the stage Wednesday, sitting next to Fiorina, his wife and 81-year-old mother Eleanor. Cruz didn't mention Trump during the hour-long event.
"All of us are here for something a lot more important than politics," Cruz said. "We're here because we love our families. We're here because we love our country. ... Women are not a special interest. Women are a majority of the United State of America. And every issue is a women's issue."
Cruz's former rival Fiorina was the only one who made a passing reference to Trump, saying he represents the powerful, wealthy establishment figures who benefit from the current tax structure and would fight against Cruz's plan to simplify it.
Otherwise, the forum gave Cruz, his mom and wife the opportunity to show a more personal side than usual just six days before Wisconsin's primary on Tuesday.
"It's not an easy time for our family to do this," Heidi Cruz said of the presidential run, referring to their two young daughters, 7-year-old Caroline and 5-year-old Catherine. Heidi Cruz has taken a leave of absence from her position at Goldman Sachs to campaign with her husband.
"I want all of the women here in Wisconsin and across this country to know how incredibly supportive Ted has always been of all the women in his life," Heidi Cruz said. "This is a son who was by his mother's side when she had breast cancer. This is a husband who has suggested I go for every single promotion I have ever gotten."
Cruz's mother rarely makes public appearances and Cruz said this marked the first time she had ever done such an event. She told stories about Cruz as a high school student reading books on economics and memorizing the Constitution.
"When he was studying the Constitution, he would spend hours in front of myself and his father reciting it and learning the gestures that went with it," she said.