Mike Lee becomes first U.S. senator to endorse Ted Cruz

Better late than never.

Ted Cruz, who is running for president, had gotten this far in the election cycle without a single endorsement by a fellow U.S. senator – a point his Republican rival Donald Trump has made repeatedly.

Sen. Mike Lee, a conservative from Utah, became the first member of the Senate to endorse the Texas firebrand in his quest to become the GOP nominee in the general election, according to several published reports.

“Ted Cruz has been a tireless defender of the Constitution and the founding principles that have made this the greatest country the world has ever known,” said Lee in a statement posted on Cruz’s website. “Ted is a leader with a proven record of fighting for our conservative values and for the issues that matter most to Americans.”

“He has shown time and again that he is willing to stand up to Washington,” Lee said. “Ted is an authentic fighter who will ensure that poverty is temporary instead of tolerable, that hard-working families will have real opportunities to rise, and he will put an end to the special perks and privileges for the wealthy and well-connected.”

It is a much-needed boost for Cruz, who is fighting to be seen as the Republican Party’s best chance to keep Trump from becoming the GOP nominee.

The billionaire real estate mogul has often has mocked Cruz for his unpopularity among fellow senators. Many of his colleagues see him as overly obstinate and stubborn to the point of undermining the party.

In one of his more notorious moments, Cruz forced a government shutdown because of his opposition to funding President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The shutdown ended up backfiring, hurting the GOP's image among voters.

Last year, when Cruz was girding for another shutdown – this time in opposition to funding for Planned Parenthood – his colleagues threw obstacles in his way.

At the time, only Lee was willing to back Cruz.

Lee is friendly with both Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

The New York Times noted that the growing number of attack ads in the Republican race had unnerved Lee.

“It’s not easy to see them fighting,” the Times quoted Lee as having said.

Lee’s backing comes on the heels of an endorsement by Cruz's former GOP rival, Carly Fiorina. Cruz has performed better than many expected in many primaries and caucuses and is second to Trump in the number of delegates he's won.

Cruz has been trying to pressure Rubio to drop out of the race, and is trying to drum up support in Florida, which has a winner-take-all primary next Tuesday, in an effort to make it harder for Rubio to win in his home state. Polls of Florida GOP voters show Trump ahead of Rubio.

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