Trump, Cruz trade barbs over wives in US presidential race

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NEW YORK, March 23 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz turned to Twitter to defend their wives' honor after a Super PAC put out an ad featuring Trump's wife nude and Trump threatened to "spill the beans" on Cruz's wife.

Trump's threat came on Tuesday night when he was upset about an ad that showed his wife, former model Melania Trump, lounging nude with a caption saying, "Meet Melania Trump. Your next first lady. Or, you could support Ted Cruz on Tuesday."

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Trump said Cruz was behind the ad, which appeared on Tuesday, the day of nominating contests in Utah, where the heavily Mormon electorate favored Cruz in its caucuses, and Arizona, which gave Trump a victory in its primary vote. The ad said it was from Make America Awesome, a Super PAC that is allowed to promote a candidate but not coordinate with the campaign.

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Trump, Cruz trade barbs over wives in US presidential race
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz and wife Heidi wave to supporters during his Keep The Promise rally at the zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C., on Sunday, March 13, 2016. (David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
STAFFORD, TX - MARCH 1: Heidi Cruz laughs as her daughters, Catherine (L) and Caroline autograph two Dr. Seuss books during a Super Tuesday watch party for husband, Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), at the Redneck Country Club March 1, 2016 in Stafford, Texas. Cruz won the Texas, Oklahoma, and Alaska primaries. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
STAFFORD, TX - MARCH 1: Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) celebrates holding his daughter Catherine with his wife Heidi and daughter Caroline during a Super Tuesday watch party at the Redneck Country Club March 1, 2016 in Stafford, Texas. Cruz won the Texas, Oklahoma, and Alaska primaries. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - FEBRUARY 20: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), his wife Heidi and daughter Catherine observe a moment of silence for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during a primary night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds February 20, 2016 in Columbia, South Carolina. Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) are locked in a tight race for finishing second in the South Carolina GOP primary. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - FEBRUARY 20: Heidi Cruz (R), wife of Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), waves with daughters Caroline (2nd R) and Catherine (L) during a primary night party at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds February 20, 2016 in Columbia, South Carolina. Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) are locked in a tight race for finishing second in the South Carolina GOP primary. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz's wife Heidi looks out from back stage during a campaign rally in Charleston, South Carolina, February 19, 2016. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R) sits with his wife Heidi during a campaign rally in Charleston, South Carolina, February 19, 2016. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Heidi Cruz, right, wife of Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, left, grabs her husband's chin after kissing him on stage during his campaign's caucus night celebration at the Elwell Center on the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016. Cruz won the Iowa Republican caucuses in an upset over billionaire Donald Trump, while Democrat Hillary Clinton was clinging to the narrowest edge over Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WINDHAM, NH - FEBRUARY 02: Heidi Cruz (R), wife of Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), talks with their daughter Caroline, 7, before a campaign town hall meeting at the Crossing Life Church February 2, 2016 in Windham, New Hampshire. Cruz emerged at the top of a crowded GOP presidential field after winning Monday's Iowa caucuses. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - FEBRUARY 01: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) stands with his wife Heidi as he addresses supporters after winning at the caucus night gathering at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on February 1, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Cruz beat out frontrunner Donald Trump and Marco Rubio (R-FL) to win the Iowa caucuses. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - FEBRUARY 01: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) embraces his wife Heidi in front of supporters at the caucus night gathering at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on February 1, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Cruz beat out frontrunner Donald Trump and Marco Rubio (R-FL) to win the Iowa caucuses. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - JANUARY 31: Wife of Republican Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz, Heidi Cruz, speaks during a campaign rally in Iowa City, Iowa, USA on January 31, 2016. Both Democratic and Republican candidates are campaigning in Iowa this weekend before the Iowa Caucus on Monday. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Heidi Cruz, the wife of Republican Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz, has a laugh at the North Star Lounge during a campaign stop in Fenton, Iowa, January 29, 2016, ahead of the Iowa Caucus. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Heidi Cruz, the wife of Republican Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz, has a laugh at the North Star Lounge during a campaign stop in Fenton, Iowa, January 29, 2016, ahead of the Iowa Caucus. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
FENTON, IA - JANUARY 29 : Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, center, listens as his wife Heidi Cruz, left, speaks during a campaign event at North Star Restaurant and Lounge Shop January 29, 2016 in Fenton, Iowa. Cruz, who is seeking the nomination for the Republican Party is on the presidential campaign trail across Iowa ahead of the Iowa Caucus taking place February 1, a week before the New Hampshire Primaries. Joshua Lott for The Washington Post via Getty Images
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 21: Heidi Nelson Cruz, the wife of Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and thier daughter Catherine listen as Ted Cruz speaks to supporters at his Religious Liberty Rally on August 21, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Earlier in the day Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) visited and spoke to guests at the Iowa State Fair. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Catherine Cruz, left, waves to her dad, Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, as she sits on the lap of her mom Heidi Nelson Cruz at the Rally for Religious Liberty in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. A day after Jimmy Carter appeared on national television to talk about the cancer that's ravaging his body, Republican presidential candidate Cruz criticized the former president's administration in a speech in Iowa. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 21: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) sits with his wife Heidi Nelson Cruz at the Religious Liberty Rally he was hosting on August 21, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Earlier in the day Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) visited and spoke to guests at the Iowa State Fair. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, stands with his wife Heidi Nelson Cruz and daughters Catherine Cruz, left, and Caroline Cruz, right, as he marks the start of his presidential campaign by giving the convocation address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S., on Monday, March 23, 2015. By kicking off his campaign at the Virginia Christian college founded by the late evangelist Jerry Falwell, rather than a venue in his home state, Cruz is signaling hell court religious conservatives as well as small-government tea-party activists as he competes to become the lead anti-establishment candidate in the party contest. Photographer: Jay Paul/Bloomberg via Getty Images
LYNCHBURG, VA - MARCH 23: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) kisses his wife Heidi Cruz before walking onstage to speak at Liberty University to announce his presidential candidacy March 23, 2015 in Lynchburg, Virginia. Cruz officially announced his 2016 presidential campaign for the President of the United States during the event. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Heidi Cruz, wife of Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, appears during a campaign event on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Heidi Cruz, wife of Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a campaign event, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Heidi Cruz, wife of Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduces him during a town hall meeting, Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, in Wilton, Iowa. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, accompanied by his wife Heidi and their two daughters Catherine, 4, right, and Caroline, 7, center, waves to members of the audience after speaking at a rally at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center in Waterloo, Iowa, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Heidi Cruz, wife of presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, sits in the front row during a town hall event at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, Wednesday, April 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Heidi Nelson Cruz, wife of presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, smiles as she supports her husband at the Londonderry Fish and Game club in Litchfield, N.H., Sunday, April 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, right, and his wife Heidi Nelson Cruz wave to delegates the Texas GOP Convention after his speech in Fort Worth, Texas Friday, June 6, 2014. Cruz promised to lead a conservative revolution unseen since the days of Ronald Reagan. (AP Photo/Rex C. Curry)
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"Wow @SenTedCruz, that is some low level ad you did using a picture Melania in a G.Q. shoot," Trump tweeted on Tuesday. "Be careful or I will spill the beans on your wife."

Trump later deleted the tweet but published another that read: "Lyin' Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin' Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!"

Trump did not indicate what kind of beans he intended to spill about Heidi Cruz, who is on leave from an executive job at Goldman Sachs while campaigning, but her husband quickly came to her defense on Twitter.

"Pic of your wife not from us," the U.S. senator from Texas said. "Donald, if you try to attack Heidi, you're more of a coward than I thought. #classless."

The battle continued on Wednesday with Cruz telling CNN: "He went directly after my wife. If Donald wants to get in a character fight, he's better off sticking with me because Heidi is way out of his league."

SEE ALSO: Who's in the lead and who's falling behind in the 2016 race

A Twitter response from Trump questioned Cruz' honesty.

"Lyin' Ted Cruz denied that he had anything to do with the G.Q. model photo post of Melania. That's why we call him Lyin' Ted!" he said.

The director of Make America Awesome, Liz Mair, posted on Twitter that her group was responsible for the ad. She did not respond to an email from Reuters seeking comment.

In a campaign appearance for her husband in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Heidi Cruz addressed the uproar briefly.

"You probably know by now that most of the things that Donald Trump says have no basis in reality," she told reporters. "So we are not worried in the least."

(Reporting By Amy Tennery; Additional reporting by Melissa Fares and Gina Cherelus in New York and Megan Cassella and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Bill Trott)

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