Cruz wins key Iowa endorsement
© Greg Nash
Cruz is already surging in Iowa and its first-in-the-nation presidential contest, and the key endorsement will add to perceptions that the Texas senator is in a strong position to win the state's presidential caucuses.
The news comes just days after a Monmouth University poll showed Cruz edging out Donald Trump at the top of the Hawkeye State.
A second poll from CNN showed Cruz in second place and trailing Trump.
Vande Plaats announced his pick during a press conference Wednesday morning in Iowa. 
The evangelical leader has endorsed each of the last two Iowa caucus winners, former Gov. Mike Huckabee (Ark.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.). Both are running in the 2016 election, but were passed over by Vander Plaats in favor of Cruz. 
Vander Plaats explained his choice in an interview with The Des Moines Register that published minutes before the press conference. 
"At the end of the day, we truly believe that Ted Cruz is the most consistent and principled conservative who has the ability to not only win Iowa but I believe to win the [Republican] nomination," he told the paper. 
He also addressed why he didn't support any of the other candidates polling towards the top in Iowa — Trump, Ben Carson, or Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.).
While speaking generally about Trump and Carson, Vander Plaats reserved his harshest critique for Rubio, the candidate seen as Cruz's biggest threat outside of Trump. Vander Plaats blasted Rubio's support for a bipartisan immigration reform bill. 
"The one issue he decided he was going to lead in Washington, D.C., with  [Sen. Charles] Schumer (D-N.Y.) and [Sen.] John McCain (R-Ariz.) and the 'gang of eight' gave and gives everybody a little bit of cause for pause," he said. 
"And with immigration being such a big issue today, I think that's going to be a hurdle that's going to be a very steep for Marco Rubio to clear."
Vander Plaats's endorsement could help Cruz. 
Santorum had polled regularly in the single digits before Vander Plaats endorsed him in December 2011, according to RealClearPolitics. But the former senator gained strength from that point and ended up winning the caucuses.

Cruz has long worked to bring key evangelical leaders in the state onto his side. Evangelicals made up almost 60 percent of the GOP caucus vote in 2012.

Cruz is also being supported by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and radio host Steve Deace, two other key figures within the state's evangelical community.