Ted Cruz picks up Bob Vander Plaats endorsement in Iowa

Story highlights

  • Bob Vander Plaats gave his long-anticipated endorsement Thursday to Sen. Ted Cruz
  • Vander Plaats endorsed Iowa winner Rick Santorum in the 2012 campaign
  • The Family Leader organization did not make an endorsement of its own

Des Moines, Iowa (CNN)Evangelical leader and powerbroker Bob Vander Plaats gave Ted Cruz's campaign a boost Thursday morning with an endorsement as the Texas Republican fights Donald Trump for the lead in Iowa.

"The extraordinary leader that we need for these extraordinary times is U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz," Vander Plaats. the president and CEO of the conservative Family Leader organization, said at a press conference at the Iowa state Capitol.
Vander Plaats is seen as one of the most influential kingmakers in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. His close alignment with political networks and activist followings could help tip the scales in the Iowa caucuses. Vander Plaats endorsed Iowa caucus winner Rick Santorum in 2012.
    The Family Leader did not have consensus to make an endorsement, but the board unanimously released Vander Plaats and his colleagues Robert Cramer, Bill Tvedt and Chuck Hurley, to endorse the senator independently.
    Vander Plaats evaluated candidates on character, competence, the company that they keep, and an infrastructure "that can go the distance and become the nominee."
    "We will be going all in for Sen. Ted Cruz," Vander Plaats said. "We have found him as a man of deep character. A man that we can fully trust, who has a consistency of convictions, who loves his god, loves his spouse, and who loves his family. We also see him to be very, very competent. Not always popular, but very competent. He has challenged both sides of the aisle. He understands what it's going to take to get the country out of the mess that we're currently in. We believe that he is exceptionally competent and that adds to his extraordinary leadership."
    The endorsement comes as Cruz has surged in the polls. Trump has 33% support among likely Republican caucus-goers, with Cruz at 20%, according to Monday's CNN/ORC poll. But a Monmouth University survey that relied only on registered voter rolls has Cruz with the lead: 24% to 19%.
    Cruz has ramped up his organization in the Hawkeye State in recent weeks. He has visited Iowa six out of the last eight weekends, and he is more than halfway through an Iowa feat called the "Full Grassley," an homage to the state's senior senator which involves visits to all 99 counties in the state. In a recent visit, the campaign held 14 stops over three days.
    And in Des Moines last Saturday, Cruz announced the "Cruz Crew Strike Force" and opening of "Camp Cruz," rented apartments to lodge hundreds of volunteers from across the country coming to campaign for Cruz in Iowa.
    Cruz has also locked up the endorsement of Rep. Steve King, another influential Iowan among social conservative voters.
    Christian conservative leaders have been split between Cruz and several other candidates including Ben Carson, who has not made much noise within the two Iowans' circles despite leading the field in recent state polls. And in recent months, the Republican hopefuls have come in droves, meeting privately with the pair at Family Leader headquarters or in King's congressional district -- often multiple times.
    Vander Plaats praised other candidates in the race. He said he met with Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to discuss his decision, and called Trump, whom he said was "disappointed" but has "brought a lot of value to the race."
    He said that while past caucus winners Huckabee and Santorum are "dear friends who we love deeply," the race calls for new leadership.
    "For whatever reason, the dynamics are such today that it seems like people are moving on, they're looking, saying what is that fresh, what is that bold, what is that courageous leadership?"
    It is Vander Plaats' hope that his decision will encourage conservatives to coalesce.
    "We have believed for a long time if we're united, we will win, if we're divided, we're going to repeat 2008 and 2012," he said. "We will be uniting, and we will be going all in for Sen. Ted Cruz."