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SIOUX CITY, Iowa, December 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Sen. Ted Cruz has come under fire in Iowa for leaked audio in which he says overturning the Supreme Court decision redefining marriage will not be one of his “top three” issues if elected president.

Campaign donors told the senator they did not support his views on gay “marriage” during a December 9 meeting in Manhattan, where the audio was recorded. One donor asked Cruz if “it’s like a top-three priority for you, fighting gay 'marriage'?”

Cruz replied, “No. I would say defending the Constitution is a top priority. And that cuts across the whole spectrum — whether it’s defending First Amendment, defending religious liberty, stopping courts from making public policy issues that are left to the people.”

He reiterated his belief that, under the Tenth Amendment and the constitutional system of federalism, the 50 states may democratically choose to define marriage differently – a position shared by rival Marco Rubio.

His rivals were quick to pounce, accusing Cruz of duplicity, saying one thing in public and another in private.

“What Senator Cruz said before New York donors doesn’t comport what he told Iowa conservatives or the National Organization for Marriage,” said Matt Beynon, a spokesman for Rick Santorum. The National Organization for Marriage was one of a number of leading evangelical and conservative organizations that have endorsed Ted Cruz, coalescing around the first-term Texas senator.

“Conservatives are being asked to ‘coalesce’ around yet another corporately-funded candidate that says something very different at a big donor fundraiser in Manhattan than at a church in Marshalltown,” said Governor Mike Huckabee.

The president of a super PAC associated with Huckabee, Nick Ryan of Pursuing America's Greatness, also heads the Iowa Progress Project, which is buying $200,000 of radio ads in Sioux City between now and December 29. He intends to pound the message home with Iowa's evangelicals, who play a pivotal role in the first in the nation Iowa caucus.

Cruz's supporters say the position is nothing new. Cruz has publicly supported a constitutional amendment returning the definition of marriage to the states, which has been its traditional place. (Santorum favors a stronger amendment that would uphold the traditional definition of marriage throughout the country.)

Others questioned the rhetorical importance of the remark. “Frankly, I wonder if gay marriage is a top-three issue even for evangelicals in Iowa,” AllahPundit wrote on “Terrorism has shot to the top of Republican priorities; immigration has been the hottest issue of the primary to date; and the economy is a perennial when people are asked what the most important issue to them is. When Gallup offered Americans a laundry list of issues to prioritize a few weeks ago, 'gay rights issues' didn’t even crack one percent.”

Evangelicals are particularly concerned about religious liberty, something Cruz has emphasized in his primary campaign.

Huckabee is hoping this ad campaign stokes fires among the Hawkeye state's conservative Christian base, which powered him to an upset victory in 2008. This year, he is placing all his bets on another strong showing in the state. Cruz and Huckabee see themselves as the natural rivals for grassroots support.

He told WHO-AM radio host Simon Conway on Wednesday, “If we can’t come within striking distance of the victory or win it, then I think we recognize that it’s going to be hard to take that onto the other states.”

Polls show Cruz in first or second place, with Huckabee well near the bottom of the pack in Iowa.