Ben Carson

Ben Carson

Ted Cruz on Tuesday apologized to fellow GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson for spreading a rumor the former neurosurgeon was dropping out of the race after the Iowa caucus.

“Last night when our political team saw the CNN post saying that Dr. Carson was not carrying on to New Hampshire and South Carolina, our campaign updated grassroots leaders just as we would with any breaking news story,” Cruz said in a statement.

“That’s fair game. What the team then should have done was send around the follow-up statement from the Carson campaign clarifying that he was indeed staying in the race when that came out.

“This was a mistake from our end, and for that I apologize to Dr. Carson.”

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Cruz’s apology followed Carson’s accusations his Republican rivals played “dirty tricks” on him during the Iowa caucuses, saying they told voters he was going to drop out of race after Monday’s contest.

“For months,” he said in a statement reported by The Hill, “my campaign has survived the lies and dirty tricks from my opponents who profess to detest the games of the political class, but in reality are masters of it.”

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He went on, condemning what he described as the shenanigans of his fellow Republicans in Iowa.

“My opponents resorted to political tricks by tweeting, texting and telling precinct captains that I had suspended my campaign — in some cases asking caucus goers to change their votes,” he said, The Hill reported.

Carson, interviewed Tuesday on “Fox and Friends,” said his supporters were told “voting for me was wasting their vote, and that they should reconsider.”

The stunning charge came as a Carson spokesman declared on Tuesday, “There has never been a more tainted victory in the Iowa caucuses.”

Rob Taylor, an Iowa state representative who supports Carson, was much blunter: “This is horses–t,” he said, Fortune reported.

He said he will be releasing an official statement Tuesday “as to the potential ethical misconduct of the Cruz campaign.”

Carson said his suspicions were also confirmed by tweets, “other correspondence” and a first-hand experience by his wife at a precinct.

“It was happening all over,” Iowa State Director Ryan Rhodes told MSNBC. “One of the precincts Candy [Carson, the candidate’s wife] walked into, she had to correct the record. She actually walked in, in Ankeny, and gave a speech about no, he’s still in the race, and that’s a lie.”

Carson said his whole reason for getting in the White House race was to fight to stop political dishonesty.

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“One of the reasons I got into this race was to stop these deceptive and destructive practices,” he said. “These reports have only further steeled my resolve to continue and fight for ‘We the People’ and return control of the government back to them.”

Rush Limbaugh weighed in on Carson’s claims of caucus shenanigans during his radio show Tuesday.

“As a way out of this, Sen. Cruz could simply offer Dr. Carson a delegate or two as part of his apology. Maybe three. Three max. One or two delegates ought to cover it.”

Carson also said his bid is hardly on its last legs, pointing to finishing in Iowa ahead of three former governors.

“Regardless of how the media has attempted to marginalize me and my campaign,” he said, The Hill reported, “I still have the highest favorability rating and have remained among the leading candidates in every major survey.”

Carson didn’t name the fellow GOPers he was upset with by name, but as The Hill reported, Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign co-chairman, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, did send some tweets that painted the former neurosurgeon as a quitter.

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“Carson looks like he is out,” King tweeted. “Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope.”

King also tweeted: “#iacaucus Skipping NH & SC is the equivalent of suspending. Too bad this information won’t get to all caucus goers.”

Cruz Iowa staffer Spence Rogers also suggested in an email to precinct captains that Carson may be announcing the end of his campaign next week.

“Breaking News. The press is reporting that Dr. Ben Carson is taking time off from the campaign trail after Iowa and making a big announcement next week,” the email read. “Please inform any Carson caucus goers of this news and urge them to caucus for Ted Cruz.”

Carson did announce at the end of Iowa’s tally, meanwhile, that he was returning to Florida rather than heading on to New Hampshire. But he said he was only going for a brief time; he did not announce an end to his presidential run.

CNN reported Carson was headed to Florida “for some R&R,” instead of going to New Hampshire and South Carolina. Many in both parties saw this as evidence of Carson winding down his struggling campaign.

But Carson told Fox News on Tuesday morning that Cruz supporters and representatives took that narrative a step further and began telling caucus-goers at “many” precincts that he was dropping out.

Team Cruz quickly texted supporters in Iowa: “CNN is reporting that Ben Carson will stop campaigning after Iowa. Make sure to tell all of your peers at the caucus.”

The caucus process allows supporters of one candidate to be persuaded to change sides before casting their ballot.

Carson ended up finishing a distant fourth in Iowa, with 9 percent, while Cruz claimed a big victory over Donald Trump. Cruz, a Texas senator, had 28 percent, and Trump had 24 percent.

Cruz’s campaign, meanwhile, called the accusations groundless.

“That’s absurd,” said Cruz campaign spokesperson Catherine Frazier, Forbes reported.

On Tuesday morning, Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler tried to defend the campaign against the “false” allegations, telling MSNBC that the campaign simply repeated what Carson had said: that after Iowa, he was returning to Florida for a couple of days, then going to Washington for the National Prayer Breakfast.

“That told us he was not going to New Hampshire,” Tyler said. “That was not a dirty trick.”

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