By JILL COLVIN
AMES, Iowa (AP) — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump received a key endorsement Tuesday from conservative heavyweight Sarah Palin.
The former Alaska governor and former running mate of Sen. John McCain in his 2008 bid for the White House, is endorsing the billionaire businessman, according to a statement released by his campaign.
"I am greatly honored to receive Sarah’s endorsement," Trump said in a statement. "She is a friend, and a high quality person whom I have great respect for. I am proud to have her support."
Palin is scheduled to appear with Trump at a rally at an agricultural center at the Iowa State University later Tuesday and will also be joining Trump at two events on Wednesday, including a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The endorsement comes less than two weeks ahead of the critical lead-off Iowa caucus, where Trump is locked in a dead heat with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
In the statement announcing the endorsement, Trump’s campaign described Palin as a conservative who "helped launch the careers of several key future leaders of the Republican Party and conservative movement." The statement also quoted Cruz as once saying he "would not be in the United States Senate were it not for Gov. Sarah Palin…She can pick winners."
Campaigning in New Hampshire, Tuesday, Cruz responded to Palin’s endorsement of Trump, saying "regardless of what Sarah intends to do in 2016, I will remain a big, big fan of Sarah Palin."
Trump’s national political director Michael Glassner previously worked with Palin, who was a virtual newcomer to the national political arena when McCain named her as his running mate. She has since risen to prominence as one of the most outspoken conservatives in the party.
She signed on as a Fox News commentator after resigning as Alaska’s governor in 2010, a job she held until last year.
Asked Tuesday morning about his thoughts on a potential Palin endorsements, as rumors of her potential backing swirled, Trump said, "I’m a big fan of Sarah Palin."
While Trump said he doesn’t typically put much stock in endorsements, he said, "I think it could very well result in votes."
Earlier Tuesday, Trump received another endorsement from the daughter of western film star John Wayne.
Standing in front of a life-size, rifle-toting model of the actor in full cowboy gear, Trump accepted the endorsement of Aissa Wayne at the John Wayne Birthplace Museum in Winterset, Iowa. Aissa Wayne said the country needs a strong and courageous leader like her father, noting that John Wayne would be offering his endorsement if he were still alive.
Associated Press reporter Scott Bauer contributed to this report from Center Barnstead, New Hampshire.
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