Indiana Gov. Mike Pence endorsed Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz on Friday, a major coup for the Texas lawmaker who has banked his campaign on winning the Hoosier state’s decisive primary next Tuesday.
Pence made his announcement 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."
The endorsement from Pence comes as Cruz is locked in a close battle for Indiana’s 57 delegates with Republican front-runner Donald Trump. While Cruz at this point has no chance of gaining enough delegates to win the nomination, he’s hoping that by winning Indiana he could block Trump from becoming the Republican nominee.
A poll released by Clout Research on Friday shows the billionaire businessman holding a two point advantage over Cruz in Indiana with Ohio Gov. John Kasich trailing in a distant third.
Earlier Friday, Cruz said he's "enthusiastically welcome his 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."
Cruz is desperately seeking momentum 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 insists he can block Trump from the 1,237 delegate majority as the 2016 contest shifts to "friendlier terrain" in the West and Midwest. The Texas senator declared he is "all in" on Indiana.
"We're barnstorming the state," he added after the first of four scheduled Indiana appearances on Friday.
Pence, who faces his own re-election this year, 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."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.