Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats on Thursday endorsed Ted Cruz for president, giving the Texas senator's campaign one of its biggest boosts yet in the first-in-the-country caucus state.
"At the end of the day, we truly believe that Ted Cruz is the most consistent and principled conservative who has the ability to not only win Iowa but I believe to win the [Republican] nomination," Vander Plaats told the Des Moines Register in an interview published Thursday, the same day he was scheduled to announce the endorsement at the Iowa Capitol.
As the head of the social conservative group The Family Leader, Vander Plaats holds sway among the influential evangelical voting bloc in the Hawkeye State, where Cruz's poll numbers are on the rise. Vander Plaats' backing comes three weeks after Cruz won the support of another influential figure in conservative circles, U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa.
Cruz hailed Vander Plaats' support as proof that conservatives are uniting behind his bid for the White House, saying it "speaks to the grassroots activists who have delivered for the past couple of Iowa Caucus winners that the time has come for us to coalesce."
"This is an endorsement that simultaneously sends a signal to political observers and motivates active caucus voters," Cruz said in a statement. “It’s more evidence that our campaign has momentum and is gaining ground heading into the final weeks of the caucus."
Vander Plaats' endorsement had been viewed as Cruz's to lose, though Vander Plaats had strongly denied in recent weeks that any candidate had the inside track. Cruz was among seven GOP hopefuls who participated in a Family Leader forum last month in Des Moines that was billed as a final audition for Vander Plaats' stamp of approval.
Vander Plaats has thrown his support behind the last two Republican candidates who went on to win the Iowa caucuses. He picked former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania ahead of the 2012 caucuses and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in advance of the 2008 nominating contest.
As it did during the last presidential race, The Family Leader decided to hold off on making an endorsement as an organization before the caucuses. Vander Plaats was joined in personally endorsing Cruz by two other officials with the group, vice president Chuck Hurley and board chairman Robert Cramer.
Vander Plaats' backing gives Cruz more evidence that he is consolidating conservative support in his bid for the White House. On Wednesday, Cruz rolled out the endorsements of longtime activist Richard Viguerie, who backed Santorum in 2012, and the National Organization for Marriage, an anti-gay marriage group. Among the most sought-after kingmakers still on the sidelines is Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council whom Cruz has been aggressively courting.
As Vander Plaats announced his endorsement Thursday morning in Iowa, Cruz was in Washington, D.C., where he delivered a national security speech at the the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.