In a setback for Donald Trump, Indiana’s governor endorsed the front-runner’s chief rival, Ted Cruz, on Friday, just days before the state’s critical Republican primary contest.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence made his support for the Texas senator official during an afternoon radio interview, casting Cruz as "a principled conservative."
"The man has shown the courage of his convictions," Pence said, citing Cruz’s fight against government spending and the federal health care law, and his "strong and unwavering stand for the sanctity of life."
Pence, who faces his own re-election test this fall, also praised Trump, who he said "has given voice to the frustration of millions of working Americans." "I’m grateful for his voice in the national debate," he said.
"I’m not against anybody, but I will be voting for Ted Cruz in the upcoming Republican primary," Pence added.
The Indiana governor’s backing gives Cruz a desperately needed boost in his fight to block Trump from claiming the delegate majority before the GOP’s national convention in July. A Trump win in Indiana on Tuesday would all but ensure he becomes the presumptive nominee.
Trump swept all five Northeastern primary elections earlier in the week and enjoys a massive delegate advantage over his Republican rivals. Cruz has been mathematically eliminated from earning the 1,237 delegate majority, but insists he can block Trump from the majority as well, as the 2016 contest shifts to "friendlier terrain" in the West and Midwest. The Texas senator declared he is "all in" on Indiana.
Cruz said earlier Friday he would "enthusiastically welcome" Pence’s support.
"The country is depending on Indiana to bring some sober common sense," Cruz told reporters in Indianapolis, "instead of going down a rash course of action that is endangering this country."
"We’re barnstorming the state," he added after the first of four scheduled Indiana appearances on Friday.
Pence, who is seeking his second term this fall, had been under enormous pressure from pro- and anti-Trump factions. Although he is more closely aligned with Cruz, he risks voter backlash in the fall if Tuesday’s primary contest shows Indiana is filled with Trump voters.
Trump said this week that he had met the governor and asked for his backing.
"I don’t think he’ll endorse anybody, actually — and he may endorse us," Trump told CNN on Wednesday. "I don’t know. He’s a great guy. He’s become — you know, he’s done a very, very good job as governor and he’s a great guy. I don’t know if we’ll get his endorsement. I don’t know."
Trump added that he didn’t think Pence would endorse Cruz.
Yet Cruz and conservatives who support him have pressed Pence from the other direction.
"Every day he sits on the sidelines is another day in which he could have made a difference," Republican columnist Erick Erickson wrote Thursday on the website The Resurgent. "He has not used his influence in the conservative movement to rally against Trump."
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