-- Ted Cruz secured the support of prominent evangelical Bob Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader, giving Cruz a trifecta of important endorsements in Iowa that show that social conservatives are coalescing around the presidential candidate.
Vander Plaats made the announcement in Des Moines, Iowa, today calling Cruz a man of "deep character" who is "competent" and has the campaign infrastructure to go the distance in the presidential race.
"I happen to believe that the extraordinary leader that we need for these extraordinary times is U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz," said Vander Plaats, who touted Cruz's campaign staff as well as his resources.
"As you’ve seen in the polls, he’s beginning to rise. Not only will he be really, really strong here in Iowa, we believe he will be strong in the early states and we believe he can be the nominee to take on and defeat Hillary Clinton and the leftist agenda," Vander Plaats said.
In Iowa, Cruz and Donald Trump appear to be vying for the top spot. A Monmouth University poll shows Cruz with a slight lead over Trump while a CNN/ORC poll shows Trump leading Cruz by 13 points. A CBS/NYT national poll released today shows Cruz in second place behind Trump.
The support of Vander Plaats follows the endorsement of Rep. Steve King, one of the most prominent conservative politicians in Iowa, and conservative radio host Steve Deace. Iowa insiders say that trio of endorsements gives Cruz a powerful surge among social conservatives and evangelicals, a key group that Cruz is working to appeal to both in Iowa and nationally.
"Ted Cruz getting that with the combination of Steve King’s endorsement really does give it a multiplier effect," said Rick Schwarm, former chairman of the Iowa Republican Party.
Several conservatives courted the endorsement of Vander Plaats, most recently at a presidential forum in November hosted by the Family Leader. At that event, Cruz got a rousing applause and the number of supporters hoping to hear and talk to the Texas senator overfilled a room.
Schwarm said that the endorsement of Vander Plaats coupled with the support of King and Deace shows that “social conservatives are now going to support Ted Cruz and show up on caucus night.”
The Cruz campaign has long touted its ground game in the Hawkeye state.
"Our ground game in Iowa continues to exceed that of our opponents. Not only have we secured the endorsements of prominent conservatives across the state of Iowa including Bob Vander Plaats, Steve King and Steve Deace, we have nearly 3,000 volunteers working with 99 county chairmen and a terrific leadership team," said Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler. "While others are running their campaigns on television, we have been building a grassroots army and we are about to unleash that army to help us secure victory in Iowa on Feb. 1."
Part of that army includes "Camp Cruz," a rented dormitory the campaign is using in Iowa to host volunteers from across the nation that they're calling a "Cruz Crew Strike Force."
It "will be occupied for the duration until the Feb. 1 caucus with over 500 volunteers mostly from Texas and to help get out the vote for Senator Cruz," said Tyler.
In Iowa, Cruz has competed most vigorously for the support of evangelicals and social conservative with Dr. Ben Carson. Today's endorsement probably hurts Carson the most, Schwarm said.
"Ben Carson was doing remarkably well, but the fact that Ted Cruz is getting this says we like Carson, but Cruz is our guy. So it hurts him a lot. It probably keeps the momentum going down for him. People still like and respect him, but they’re probably not going to vote for him,” Schwarm said.