DES MOINES, Iowa - The president of an influential evangelical Christian advocacy group in Iowa endorsed Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the 2016 presidential race Thursday morning.
Bob Vander Plaats, president of The Family Leader, is regarded in the state as a "Republican kingmaker." At the Capitol, Vander Plaats announced his support for Cruz.
"This time, I really believe I'm seeing leaders I've been visiting with that are ready to coalesce and unite around Sen. Ted Cruz. I also see the infrastructure that Sen. Cruz has, the resources that he has to be able to go the distance. I really believe and expect Sen. Ted Cruz to be the nominee in 2016," Vander Plaats said.
The social conservative figurehead endorsed Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012, both of whom went on to win the Iowa caucuses in those years.
Many expected The Family Leader to endorse either Dr. Ben Carson or Sen. Cruz at its press conference Thursday. The group issued a statement on its website prior to the conference, saying it "will not be issuing an endorsement of a candidate prior to the Iowa Caucus." Vander Plaats' endorsement is viewed as an individual endorsement, outside the parameters of his organization.
"For these reasons and others, our board unanimously decided The FAMiLY LEADER needs to remain a standard bearer for Christian principles in our culture and government, and not endeavor to be a kingmaker in the election process," the group said in its statement.
The Des Moines Register reports the Family Leader board voted 9-0 that Cruz was the best candidate, but one member abstained due to a friendship with another candidate. This means The Family Leader's resources will not be used to promote Cruz. However, Vander Plaats, along with the group's vice president, Chuck Hurley, and board chairman, Robert Cramer, issued individual endorsements for the Texas senator.
In November, Iowa Representative Steve King endorsed Cruz - a move he hadn't made since endorsing Fred Thompson in 2008. Rep. King's influence with Iowa social conservatives will surely affect Cruz's chances in Iowa, and a second endorsement from Vander Plaats strongly positions the Texas senator in the state ahead of the February caucuses.
According to its website, The Family Leader "provides a consistent, courageous voice in the churches, in the legislature, in the media, in the courtroom, in the public square…always standing for God’s truth."