Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) is endorsing Baptist Minister Mark Harris (R) in North Carolina's Senate race, giving him a boost against the GOP establishment's preferred candidate. 

State House Speaker Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGrassley: 'Good chance' Senate panel will consider bills to protect Mueller Senate plans hearing for bills to protect Mueller GOP puts brakes on Trump's DACA deal with Democrats MORE (R) is the preferred candidate of establishment Republicans, but Harris hopes to consolidate social conservative support in the GOP primary, and Huckabee's endorsement is his highest nod to date. 

The former presidential candidate, fellow Baptist minister and social conservative leader praised Harris, who led the fight to ban gay marriage in North Carolina, as a "true conservative" in the race. 

The endorsement further boosts the chances that Tillis will have a tough fight for the GOP nomination, potentially hurting Republicans' efforts to defeat Sen. Kay HaganKay HaganLinking repatriation to job creation Former Sen. Kay Hagan in ICU after being rushed to hospital GOP senator floats retiring over gridlock MORE (D-N.C.), a top GOP target. Republicans have hoped that Tillis can avoid a tough primary and win the race without having to compete in a runoff election for the nomination.

Hagan is viewed as highly vulnerable in the race, but a messy GOP primary could boost her chances at reelection.

Huckabee seemed to take a veiled shot at Tillis, who has so far struggled to unite North Carolina Republicans behind his campaign. Greg Brannon, a Tea Party favorite who has the endorsement of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), is also in the race, as are three other candidates.

"As previous campaigns have shown in North Carolina, you can't select a candidate that divides people, you must select the candidate that unites people," Huckabee said in the statement released by Harris's campaign. "Mark is the only candidate who has the lifelong experience as a public servant that has helped guide people from all walks of life through every problem you can imagine."