WASHINGTON (AFP) - A cartoon war has erupted in the race for the White House over a satirical drawing depicting the two young daughters of Republican candidate Ted Cruz as performing monkeys.
The offending cartoon by The Washington Post - since removed from it website - showed Mr Cruz as an organ grinder with two dancing monkeys, under the headline "Ted Cruz uses his kids as political props".
"Classy. @washingtonpost makes fun of my girls. Stick w/ attacking me - Caroline & Catherine are out of your league," tweeted a furious Cruz, who is polling second in the Republican primary race.
The Texas Senator responded on Wednesday (Dec 23) night by posting an image of Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton walking two dogs, dubbed "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post". "Seems like a better idea for a cartoon: Hillary and her lapdogs," he tweeted, alluding to a widely-held Republican view that mainstream US media - and both papers in particular - have a Democratic bias.
Republican rivals rallied to Mr Cruz's support, including Mr Donald Trump, Mr Jeb Bush and Mr Marco Rubio, who tweeted: "Wash Post cartoon featuring @tedcruz's children is disgusting."
Senator Cruz, who is topping polls in Iowa - the first state to vote in the Republican primaries in February - railed against the cartoon while out campaigning on Wednesday.
"Not much ticks me off, but making fun of my girls, that'll do it," he told supporters in televised remarks.
"It's not complicated. Don't make fun of a five-year-old girl or a seven-year-old girl. Don't mess with my kids, don't mess with Marco's kids, don't mess with Hillary's kids, don't mess with anybody's kids.
"If the media wants to attack and ridicule every Republican, well that's what they're gonna do. But leave our kids alone."
The Washington Post has since replaced the controversial drawing with a statement from editor Fred Hiatt in which he said that Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Ann Telnaes had overstepped the mark.
"It's generally been the policy of our editorial section to leave children out of it. I failed to look at this cartoon before it was published. I understand why Ann thought an exception to the policy was warranted in this case, but I do not agree," he said.
The cartoonist had been alluding to a television ad by Mr Cruz featuring his wife and their two daughters, in which they read from a book of politically charged stories - with such titles as "How ObamaCare Stole Christmas". She argued that Mr Cruz had waived an unspoken rule by casting his children in the ad.