MANHATTAN — Two months after deriding rival Donald Trump for having "New York values," Ted Cruz entered Manhattan on Wednesday calling the state "a battleground" and said he intends to give Trump a run for his money in his home state's primary.
"God bless the great state of New York!" Cruz said upon taking the microphone in front of a tightly-packed crowd of 150 Republicans at the Women's National Republican Club in midtown Manhattan.
At his first official campaign event in the state since announcing his candidacy one year ago, Cruz accused the Trump of years of financially backing "liberal Democratic policies" in the state.
"The next time you think of all of the disastrous policies that have been foisted on the people of New York, you can thank Donald Trump for bankrolling those efforts," Cruz told the crowd.
Cruz also took a crack at former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, suggesting people "can't even afford a Big Gulp anymore."
And it took just the mentioning of current Mayor Bill de Blasio to cause a swell of boos to rise in the room. Cruz smirked, "He is beloved." Cruz specifically swiped de Blasio over his perceived relationship with law enforcement in the city.
"When the heroes of the [New York Police Department] stood up and turned their backs on Mayor de Blasio, they spoke not just for the men and women of New York but for Americans all across this nation," Cruz said.
Cruz' criticism comes after NYPD Commissioner William Bratton condemned Cruz's proposal to "patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods" following the terror attacks in Brussels.
"Before he starts denigrating any population, he should take a close look at who he's denigrating," Bratton said, referring to his own officers of Muslim faith. Bratton called the proposal "reprehensible."
Cruz dismissed on Wednesday Bratton as one of de Blasio's "chief political henchmen."
Cruz's chief strategist suggested last week that the campaign will "be spending lots of time in New York" as it tries to rack up its own delegate total and prevent Trump from reaching 1,237 delegates to clinch the nomination before the convention.
Cruz said on Wednesday he will be "competing vigorously" in the state, where the campaign is looking to pick off delegates out of specifically-targeted congressional districts.
The Cruz campaign believes it can also pull off a victory in neighboring New Jersey, a winner-take-all state with 51 delegates on the line.
"One of the reasons why I think we are poised to do very, very well here is the people of New York know Donald Trump," Cruz told reporters after his event on Wednesday.
Diane Atkins, a campaign volunteer from Brooklyn, stood outside Cruz's event on 51st street, waiting for the candidate to walk out.
"I'll tell you what — I've never missed a season of "Celebrity Apprentice," but I don't want an insult comic as my president," Atkins said, referring to Trump's reality television show.
Cruz first said Trump held "New York values" in a radio interview in mid-January, inferring Trump held more-liberal positions on issues from abortion to gay marriage than the rest of the country.
At that point, Cruz had yet to go on the offensive against Trump. But his assertion was the beginning of the eventual Iowa caucus winner's foray into drawing contrasts with the front-runner and led to the airing of a campaign ad highlighting Trump's supposed "New York values."
Cruz's emergence in the state corresponds with the consolidation of the Republican establishment support behind the Texas senator. Jeb Bush announced his backing of Cruz on Wednesday.
"In the last ten days, our campaign has been supported by Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, Mike Lee and Mark Levin," Cruz told his supporters. "Now you want to talk about the full spectrum of the Republican Party -- as broad and ideologically diverse as you could imagine -- that's it."
Cruz also openly chuckled with the crowd at the newly-given support of former rival Sen. Lindsey Graham, who hosted a fundraiser for Cruz earlier this week and has criticized Cruz by joking: "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you."
"I'd never before had an event hosted by someone who three weeks earlier publicly called for my murder," Cruz quipped.