Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz on Thursday won the highly coveted endorsement of Iowa's Bob Vander Plaats, one of the most visible leaders of the Christian conservative movement in the state that starts the nomination voting.
A former high-school principal and three-time failed candidate for Iowa’s governorship, Vander Plaats leads an Iowa-based conservative advocacy group called the Family Leader that opposes abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
For months, speculation has run strong that Vander Plaats would endorse Cruz. Those assumptions were fueled by previous endorsements of the Texas senator by people close to Vander Plaats such as Iowa-based radio talk show host Steve Deace.
In 2008, Vander Plaats served as Mike Huckabee's state chairman and the former Arkansas governor won the Iowa caucuses. Four years later, he endorsed Rick Santorum two weeks before the caucuses and the former senator from Pennsylvania edged out Mitt Romney to win the contest on a late surge.
Vander Plaats has said he wanted to deliver his stamp of approval well ahead of the caucuses because he hopes it will help spur social conservatives to coalesce around a single candidate.
Last month, Representative Steve King, another influential figure with Iowa conservatives, also endorsed Cruz.
“The extraordinary leader that we need for these extraordinary times is U.S. Senator Ted Cruz,” Vander Plaats said at a news conference in Des Moines, emphasizing the need for social conservatives to coalesce around one person.
“If we are united, we will win,” he said. “If we're divided, we're going to repeat 2008 and 2012.”