By SCOTT BAUER and STEVE PEOPLES
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — In a setback for Donald Trump, Indiana’s governor endorsed the front-runner’s chief rival, Ted Cruz, on Friday, injecting new drama into the state’s critical Republican primary contest just days before voters head to the polls.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence described Cruz as "a principled conservative" as he made his support official during an afternoon radio interview.
"The man has shown the courage of his convictions," Pence said, citing Cruz’s fight against government spending, the federal health care law and his "strong and unwavering stand for the sanctity of life."
Pence, who faces his own re-election test this fall, also praised Trump, who had personally lobbied the governor to embrace his candidacy — or at least to make no endorsement ahead of Tuesday’s primary.
"I’m grateful for his voice in the national debate," Pence said of Trump, adding, "I’m not against anybody, but I will be voting for Ted Cruz in the upcoming Republican primary."
The Indiana governor’s backing could give Cruz a desperately needed boost 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.
But Cruz pledged to keep the campaign alive, even with an Indiana loss.
"As long as we have a viable path to victory, we are campaigning until the end," he told reporters in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
Trump swept all five Northeastern primary elections earlier in the week and enjoys a massive delegate advantage over his Republican rivals. Cruz has been mathematically eliminated from earning the 1,237 delegate majority, but insists he can block Trump from the majority as well, as the 2016 contest shifts to "friendlier terrain" in the West and Midwest. The Texas senator declared he is "all in" on Indiana. Even rival John Kasich has agreed to focus on other states to give Cruz a clear path in Indiana.
After his latest round of losses, Cruz bid to regain some footing by making an early announcement of his running mate, tapping Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard executive who dropped out of the GOP race earlier this year.
His campaign says it raised $2 million around that announcement. Campaign manager Jeff Roe confirmed the fundraising total to The Associated Press.
Cruz also continued his attacks Friday on Trump, blasting him for praising former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, who announced his support for the Republican front-runner.
"All the tough guys endorse me," Trump said, earlier in the week. "I like that."
Cruz reminded the crowd of Tyson’s 1992 conviction for raping a beauty pageant contestant in Indiana.
"In Donald Trump’s world, this convicted rapist is a tough guy," Cruz said. "I have news for Donald Trump. Rapists are not tough guys."
Anti-Trump group Our Principles PAC also launched a new television ad to run through Tuesday’s election, increasing their total spending in Indiana to $2 million.
Scoring the Pence endorsement was a win for Cruz.
Pence 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. He said he didn’t know if he would get it but did not expect Pence to come out in support of Cruz.
Yet Cruz and conservatives who support him pressed Pence from the other direction.
"Every day he sits on the sidelines is another day in which he could have made a difference," Republican columnist Erick Erickson wrote Thursday on the website The Resurgent. "He has not used his influence in the conservative movement to rally against Trump."
Meanwhile, Trump picked up two more delegates in Rhode Island, giving him 81 percent of the delegates needed to clinch the nomination and avoid a contested convention. The billionaire businessman needs to win 48 percent of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination by the end of the primaries.
He won the Rhode Island primary on Tuesday in a landslide. The state GOP says Trump got 12 delegates, Ohio Gov. John Kasich got five and Cruz got two.
Overall, Trump has 996 delegates, compared to 565 for Cruz and 153 for Kasich, according to the AP delegate count.
Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Julie Bykowicz and Stephen Ohlemacher in Washington and Tom Davies in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
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