U.S. Republican presidential candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at the Freedom 2015 National Religious Liberties Conference in Des Moines, Iowa on Nov. 6, 2015.
Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters

Ted Cruz scores premier endorsement

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz scored a major prize in the first-in-the-nation nominating state Monday: An endorsement from one of Iowa’s chief kingmakers, Rep. Steve King.

“Ted Cruz has the positive conservative vision for the country that we need to correct the failures of the Obama Administration,” said King in a statement. “When I survey the challenges facing our country, and the slate of individuals who have stepped forward to offer to lead, one man stands out as the courageous conservative whom I believe can restore the soul of America. That man is Ted Cruz.”

Citing concerns over abortion, same-sex marriage, a porous border, and “Obama’s feckless foreign policy,” King said he believed Cruz was the only candidate who could “unite conservatives around his campaign and build the organization needed to beat Hillary Clinton.” In a statement shortly after, Cruz said he was “beyond honored” to receive the endorsement.

RELATED: Cruz: Obama ‘does not wish to defend this country’

“Steve is a tremendous leader in the House and one of the few truly principled men and women in Washington,” said Cruz. “He is a courageous conservative who stands up for our values and refuses to back down. His support comes at a fantastic time for our campaign as we are seeing people in Iowa and across the country signing up, volunteering, contributing, and joining our campaign to reignite the promise of America. I can’t thank Steve enough and know that his help gives us a significant advantage as we continue to grow and have success in Iowa and across the nation.”

King’s endorsement is no small victory for Cruz. He had been actively competing for that blessing with the 2016 field’s other social conservatives – Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee – as well as the two front-runners in Iowa, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and business mogul Donald Trump. The endorsement should also help to quell attacks on Cruz’s immigration record.

The influential Iowa Republican came to Cruz’s defense last week, as the Texas senator faced unexpected criticism from hard-lined immigration opponents. During the 2013 fight over a sweeping bipartisan immigration reform bill, which Cruz’s rival Sen. Marco Rubio helped draft, Cruz introduced an amendment that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to receive work permits and green cards, while blocking a pathway to citizenship. Cruz has since reversed course, calling for an expanded crackdown on undocumented immigrants amid the scrutiny over his past.

Speaking to National Review Friday, King – one of the most vocal opponents of the 2013 immigration reform bill – said he did not find Cruz’s amendment worrisome.

“I’m zero troubled by the language in the amendment,” King said. “But I am troubled by the attacks that have come because they seem to be designed to equate Ted Cruz’s immigration position with that of Marco Rubio — and I don’t see how a serious person can say that.”

King did not endorse any candidate in 2012; in 2008, he endorsed former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz scores premier endorsement