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Cruz nabs endorsement of another influential Iowa conservative

An endorsement from Bob Vander Plaats completes a "trifecta" — as some put it — of key supporters for Cruz in the conservative evangelical community in Iowa.

DES MOINES — Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz continued his rising momentum in the state of Iowa Thursday by receiving the coveted endorsement of social conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats.

"I happen to believe that the extraordinary leader that we need for these extraordinary times is U.S Senator Ted Cruz," the president and CEO of the Christian conservative group The Family Leader announced in a press conference at the Iowa Capitol Building.

Vander Plaats completes a "trifecta" — as some Iowa Republicans have put it — of key endorsers for Cruz in the conservative evangelical community in Iowa, joining the company of Congressman Steve King and conservative radio host Steve Deace.

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This will be the first time that these three influential Christian leaders have come together to support a presidential candidate.

Vander Plaats endorsed Iowa caucus winners Senator Rick Santorum and Governor Mike Huckabee in 2011 and 2007 respectively, but cited "resources" as one of the reasons he decided to support Cruz this year instead of the two former men who are currently running for president.

"We've been very impressed by the campaign staff that he has assembled, the people that he's put around him, the advisers," the conservative leader explained. "We've also taken a look at the resources of Senator Ted Cruz. As you've seen in the polls he's beginning to rise, but not only will he be very strong here in Iowa, we believe we will be strong here in the early states and and we believe he can be the nominee."

Vander Plaats spoke with Huckabee, Santorum and GOP frontrunner Donald Trump within the past two days to let them know he would not be endorsing them.

While the organization's Vice President and Chair of the board stood with Vander Plaats today in endorsing Cruz, The Family Leader as a group did not.

In a statement, the organization asserted it wished to be the "standard bearer" and not "endeavor to be a kingmaker" by throwing their weight behind one candidate.

Vander Plaats told NBC News prior to the press conference that the group would only endorse a candidate if the board was unanimous.

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But he explained Thursday that the board would have been unanimous in supporting Cruz had it not been for one abstention who has a "very close relationship" with one of the other candidates.

Jamie Johnson, an ordained minister and Senior Director of Rick Perry's most recent presidential campaign, said that the lack of a full organizational endorsement does not matter as much as Vanderplatts' nod.

"Donors to The Family Leader care about what Bob Vander Plaats says. And they will take note that Bob Vander Plaats has made his decision to endorse a particular presidential candidate therefore they should give consideration for that candidate as well," said Johnson.

Ted Cruz has been rising in the polls in Iowa, and currently stands just three points behind Trump in the Real Clear Politics polling average, at 22.3 percent. He has increased his presence in Iowa dramatically, holding 41 events in the state over the past two months.

Two representatives of the Cruz campaign were in attendance today at the forum, including state director Bryan English, who said that the candidate will be in the state even more ahead of the Feb. 1 caucuses.

"We're gonna push hard through the tape, finish strong … and get your walking shoes on, put put some new tires on your car cause it's going to be a good trip," English said.

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