AMES, Iowa | Hillary Clinton on the stump here Tuesday singled out GOP rival Sen. Ted Cruz, scolding him for taking credit for derailing gun control legislation drafted in response to the 2012 shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“Shame on you, Ted Cruz, for trying to politicize this horrible mass murder instead of working to find solutions,” said Mrs. Clinton, the heavy favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
The attack on the Texas Republican drew cheers and applause from the crowd filling an auditorium at Iowa State University.
Mrs. Clinton regularly attacks the Republican candidates in the race, painting them with a broad brush as anti-woman, anti-minority and anti-immigrant.
But her decision to identify Mr. Cruz by name stood out because, throughout the speech, she made references to another Republican contender, billionaire businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump, but avoided using his name.
Mrs. Clinton referred to Mr. Trump’s controversial remarks about temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States and about Mexicans being rapists and killers, but she didn’t attribute it to Mr. Trump.
On the Republican side, Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz are in a tight race with less than three weeks until Iowa’s leadoff nominating contest. A RealClearPolitics average of recent Iowa polls showed the two men tied at 27 percent, with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida trailing them at 13 percent.
In national polls, Mr. Trump continues to dominate the race with a double-digit lead, and he continues to dominate the political debate.
After months of railing against Mr. Trump, Mrs. Clinton has largely curtailed invoking his name on the stump and in interviews. The change follows Mr. Trump calling former President Bill Clinton “one of the great woman abusers of all time.”
Mr. Trump has threatened to make Mr. Clinton’s alleged serial sexual misconduct an issue in the race, saying it is fair game because Mrs. Clinton is playing the “woman card” and deploying her husband on the campaign trail.
Mr. Clinton also recently avoided discussing Mr. Trump when pressed by reporters while campaigning for his wife in New Hampshire.
Democratic political strategist Craig Varoga said that he did not think Mrs. Clinton was afraid of engaging Mr. Trump, but was picking and choosing her targets.
“Hillary Clinton is probably the only candidate in either party who is not scared of Trump and has the stature to take him on and call him what he is: a demagogue and a hater. I’m sure that she will be drawing sharp contrasts with him, Cruz and the other Republicans over the next few weeks,” said Mr. Varoga, who worked on Mr. Clinton’s 1996 presidential re-election team.
“They’re both big, fat, juicy targets, and both are totally unacceptable to Democratic primary voters,” he said of Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz. “It might make sense to highlight Cruz in the short-term, only because he’s not as well known as Trump, and should not get a free ride in case he becomes the Republican nominee, but I’m also sure that she and other Democrats will talk a lot about both of them in the coming weeks.”
Mrs. Clinton’s attack on Mr. Cruz was part of her increasing focus on gun control in her campaign.
At the rally at Iowa State University, Mrs. Clinton picked up the endorsement from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the nation’s largest advocacy groups for stricter gun laws.
With the gun issue, Mrs. Clinton draws a clear distinction between herself and the entire field of GOP candidates and differentiates herself from her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.
She accused Mr. Cruz of boasting about his role in derailing legislation by Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania that would have expanded background checks to buy a firearm, including weapons sold at gun shows.
“It was bipartisan,” said Mrs. Clinton. “The Democrat senator from West Virginia [and] the Republican senator from Pennsylvania joined hands, and they were under enormous pressure. And now we’ve got one of the leading candidates running for the Republican nomination, Ted Cruz, bragging that he stopped the bipartisan legislation.”
Earlier, Mrs. Clinton was introduced by Brady Campaign President Dan Gross, who announced the endorsement. He said that the former first lady and secretary of state “embodied the mission” of the Brady Campaign.
“She has made our safety the centerpiece of her campaign,” said Mr. Gross. He said that, as president, Mrs. Clinton will “finish the job” and expand background checks to buy firearms.
Mrs. Clinton said she was “deeply touched and incredibly honored” by the endorsement.
“I’m not just honored, but I am really motivated to keep this issue at the center of this presidential campaign, because the vast majority of Americans, and even a big majority of gun owners, support these common-sense gun safety measures,” she said.
Still, the issue poses potential risks of alienating pro-gun Democrats and energizing the Republican base in the general election.
Mrs. Clinton, who found a surprisingly potent foe in Mr. Sanders and is locked in a neck-and-neck race with him in Iowa and New Hampshire, said the gun issue provided a clear contrast in the Democratic race.
“We have a big difference over guns, you know that,” she told the crowd. “But I think it is a telling difference because, if you are going to go around telling people you stand up to special interests, well, stand up to the most powerful special interest; stand up to the gun lobby.”
Mrs. Clinton previously has highlighted her support for expanded background checks and the mixed record on gun control measures for Mr. Sanders, who says he was representing his state’s gun-loving sportsmen when he cast those votes.
However, in the final stretch of the Iowa contest, Mrs. Clinton is increasingly using the gun issue as a cudgel against her rival and to prod the party’s liberal base to turn out for her.
Her rhetoric provided a two-pronged attack on Mr. Sanders, hitting the Vermont independent and avowed socialist on guns and undercutting his claim to be the anti-corporate candidate in the race.
She pointed out that Mr. Sanders voted five times against the 1993 Brady law that established the current background check system and for a 2005 law that gave the firearm industry immunity from lawsuits over gun violence.
“I find it interesting that when I say you voted against the Brady bill five times, you voted for what the NRA said was the biggest NRA priority — giving them immunity. He said, ‘Well, I’m from Vermont,’” Mrs. Clinton said.
“Pat Leahy, the other senator from Vermont, voted against immunity for the gun lobby,” she said. “No, that’s not an explanation.”