The man who invented Ted Cruz just endorsed him.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who pioneered many of the anti-establish tactics and rhetoric that Cruz now uses, announced today that he supports Cruz’s presidential bid. The endorsement may have come just in the nick of time; the Indiana Republican primary is on Tuesday, and Cruz’s campaign will lose any final semblance of competitiveness if he can’t pull off a win in the predominantly white, Christian state.
Luckily for Cruz, Pence is a hero to Christian conservatives. And he just gave the Texan a boost.
“I’m not against anybody, but I will be voting for Ted Cruz in the upcoming Republican primary,” he told Indianapolis radio host Greg Garrison.
“I particularly want to commend Donald Trump, who I think has given voice to the frustration of millions of working Americans with the lack of progress in Washington, D.C.,” he added.
More than 50 social conservative leaders and Christian pastors followed Pence’s lead on Friday, getting in line behind Cruz.
In some ways, he was the “Cruz” of the House years before Cruz ever ran for Senate. As chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee from 2005-2007, Pence was a source of constant frustration to the Republican leadership team, led by then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay, because of his efforts to push rank-and-file Republicans to fight for a more conservative approach to spending.
But unlike Cruz, Pence did not deliberately try to make his colleagues hate him; he often said, “I’m a conservative, but I’m not angry about it.”
In fact, John Boehner encouraged him to join Republican leadership, and he became the third-most-powerful House Republican.
Cruz and Pence share many allies, including Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway, who heads pro-Cruz SuperPAC Keep the Promise One and has also been Pence’s longtime pollster.
And their ideologies are practically identical.
After Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—a law that allowed business owners to discriminate against potential customers based on sexual orientation—Cruz issued a full-throated defense of the governor.
“I want to commend Gov. Mike Pence for his support of religious freedom, especially in the face of fierce opposition,” Cruz said in statement on March 30, 2015. “Gov. Pence is holding the line to protect religious liberty in the Hoosier State. Indiana is giving voice to millions of courageous conservatives across this country who are deeply concerned about the ongoing attacks upon our personal liberties. I’m proud to stand with Mike, and I urge Americans to do the same.”
Cruz may have liked Pence’s move, but many Indianans didn’t. The governor’s approval ratings took a 15-point hit in the wake of the controversy.
The backlash—particularly from from the business community—effectively ended any rumors that he might launch a presidential bid. It also jeopardized his re-election bid. Politico reported that the governor is mulling running negative campaign ads for the first time in his political career, as he faces Democratic challenger John Gregg. The contest is a rematch; he beat Gregg in 2012 by 3 percentage points, netting less than half the vote.
“Indiana has allowed its governors to serve two consecutive terms since early 1970s,” said Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University. “He is possibly going to be the first governor to not win re-election.”
Downs said any endorsement would be risky for Pence.
“Given the passionate nature of each of the supporters for Trump and for Cruz, saying no to one of them, because that’s how it will be perceived, would be really dangerous,” he said. “That could be enough to make that one-, two-, three-point difference that’s til November.”
It could also make a difference for Cruz. The Texan leads Trump by 6 points in the RealClearPolitics polling average. The last-minute endorsement recalls Scott Walker’s late-breaking support for Cruz, which helped him nab a campaign-saving win in Wisconsin.