(Adds Meghan McCain comments)
WASHINGTON, Dec 23 (Reuters) - The Washington Post ignited a debate over the role of children in U.S. presidential campaigns when it published - and then retracted - a political cartoon portraying Republican candidate Ted Cruz as an organ grinder and his daughters as monkeys.
It followed a new Cruz campaign TV ad in which the Texas senator shares with his wife and two young children faux Christmas stories entitled, "How Obamacare Stole Christmas" and "The Grinch Who Lost Her Emails," a reference to Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton. The debate dominated cable news television and social media.
The Washington Post pulled the cartoon by Pulitzer Prize winner Ann Telnaes.
Telnaes said that since Cruz used the girls in a campaign video, she was justified in putting them in her cartoon, which was on the Post website on Tuesday before editors removed it.
Cruz, rising in polls ahead of next November's election, said at a campaign event in Oklahoma that he expected to be attacked but not his daughters.
"If folks want to attack me, knock yourself out," he said. "... I signed up for that, that's fine. But my girls didn't sign up for that."
Cruz responded to the cartoon on Tuesday with an email to supporters that, according to NBC's website, featured the cartoon. He sought $1 million in contributions in 24 hours to "send a message to the Washington Post."
The Post said its policy generally is to avoid children in its editorial section.
"I failed to look at this cartoon before it was published," Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said. "I understand why Ann thought an exception to the policy was warranted in this case, but I do not agree."
Over the years there has been spirited debate whenever the children of presidents and other politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, have had their mostly private lives pierced by journalists.
Their clothing, physical features, underage drinking and even boyfriends have been fodder for barbs.
Meghan McCain, daughter of Senator John McCain, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2008 against Barack Obama, appeared on Fox News and called on the Washington Post to apologize.
"There's a complete double-standard for daughters and sons of Republicans," she said, claiming the media treated her differently from offspring of Democratic politicians such as Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former President Bill Clinton and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
For more on the 2016 presidential race, see the Reuters blog, "Tales from the Trail" (http://blogs.reuters.com/talesfromthetrail/). (Reporting by Erin McPike and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott)
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