Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has won the endorsement of Iowa congressman Steve King, an influential conservative in the first-in-the-country presidential caucus state.
King made his support official Monday after months of speculation that Cruz had the inside track for his endorsement, among the most coveted in Iowa for a candidate like Cruz.
"I believe Ted Cruz is the candidate who is the answer to my prayers, a candidate whom God will use to restore the soul of America," King said at a news conference in Des Moines.
In endorsing Cruz, King made an argument the Texan himself likes to make — that he is the GOP's best bet for bringing together the various wings of the party during the primary and motivating them to turn out in the general election. Campaigning Monday in South Carolina, Cruz said that King's endorsement is "yet another sign that conservatives continue to unite behind our campaign."
"There's no doubt Steve King's support will have enormous influence," Cruz said, predicting King's endorsement would hold sway far outside his northwest Iowa district. "There are few, if any, conservatives more trusted in the state of Iowa than Steve King is."
King's endorsement was not unexpected. Both conservative firebrands, Cruz and King have worked closely in Congress — Cruz likes to say they have been "in the foxholes" together — and are both vocal opponents of illegal immigration. Before Monday, some King allies were already working in Iowa to elect Cruz, including King's son, Jeff.
King's announcement Monday marked his return to the endorsement circuit; he sat out in 2012 despite being heavily courted by a number of candidates. During the 2008 primary, King backed former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who finished a distant third in the caucuses.
In Iowa, King's backing is perhaps the most valued for hopefuls like Cruz along with that of Bob Vander Plaats, the head of the social conservative group The Family Leader. That organization is expected to make an endorsement following its Presidential Family Forum in Des Moines, which Cruz is attending.
Cruz’s critics were quick to draw attention to King’s history of controversial statements, particularly on immigration. Among those pouncing on the endorsement Monday was the campaign of Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
"Steve King’s endorsement of Ted Cruz reflects how extreme and anti-immigrant today's Republican Party has become," Lorella Praeli, the Clinton campaign’s Latino outreach director, said in a statement. "No one should be proud to stand with a congressman who believes that legalizing undocumented immigrants will ‘destroy our Republic’ and calls DREAMers 'deportables.'"
Abby Livingston contributed reporting from South Carolina.