Ames, Iowa — It was a rough day for Ted Cruz in the Hawkeye State.
Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump, Cruz’s major rival here, in a long, rambling speech this afternoon. She noted that she was choosing Trump “over some friends who are running,” including those, such as Cruz, whom she’s endorsed in previous races. Voters, she said, were “putting relationships on the line to do the right thing.”
A Palin endorsement no longer has the oomph it might have had a few years ago, when she was a conservative darling. But it could still help sway a sliver of Republican voters who might be struggling to choose between Trump and Cruz.
“Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump will appeal to many tea-party conservative voters,” says Iowa Republican activist Jamie Johnson.
Hours before Palin’s speech, Governor Terry Branstad declared himself a member of the ‘anybody but Cruz’ camp, saying he hoped the fiery Texan would lose on Feb. 1. A Cruz victory “would be very damaging for our state,” the governor told reporters at the Renewable Fuel Summit. Branstad, the longest serving governor in U.S. history, has never lost an election. He speaks to another population of Republicans — anyone “whose livelihood is dramatically affected by agriculture,” Johnson says.
Facing twin setbacks just 13 days from what polls are predicting will be a close vote in Iowa, Cruz wasn’t in the state to defend himself. Instead, he was in New Hampshire, where he is doing a bus tour through the state — an indication of how confident Cruz’s camp is in his Iowa lead.
He dismissed Branstad’s remarks to reporters there as part of establishment panic in the face of his rise.
“We will see: Like The Empire Strikes Back, the establishment will strike back because they don’t want an end to the cronyism,” Cruz told reporters in New Hampshire, per CNN. “Iowa corn farmers are wonderful Americans, but American corn farmers are not career politicians.”
Endorsements are of dubious value. But in a state that Cruz’s campaign has acknowledged he must win, letting anti-Cruz forces own a news cycle does not do him any favors.