A call to arms it was not.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz on Friday, days before the Hoosier State holds what could be the make-or-break primary for the Texas lawmaker’s White House bid.
But Pence hedged his bets while he fawned over Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump.
“Now, I have met with all three of the candidates… and I like and respect all three of the Republican candidates in the field. I particularly want to commend Donald Trump, who I think has given voice to the frustration of millions of working Americans with the lack of progress in Washington, D.C.,” Pence, who faces his own tough reelection fight, said on a conservative radio show in Indianapolis.
“And I’m also particularly grateful that Donald Trump has taken a strong stand for Hoosier jobs when we saw jobs in the Carrier company abruptly announce leaving Indiana not for another state but for Mexico,” he added. “I’m grateful for his voice in the national debate. Let me say, I’ve come to my decision about who I’m supporting and I’m not against anybody, but I will be voting for Ted Cruz in the upcoming Republican primary.”
The announcement came off as particularly bloodless after the endorsement Trump received from legendary Indiana University head coach Bobby Knight earlier this week.
“Let me first tell you that I was very, very selective with players during the time I was here,” Knight said at a campaign rally before introducing the real estate mogul. “And I’ll tell you one thing that man that was just up here a moment ago, I will tell you, that son of a b— could play for me!”
Political analysts were immediately underwhelmed by Pence’s near fence-straddling endorsement and doubted it would do much to put the Texas Republican over the top in next Tuesday’s primary.
Rick Tyler, Cruz’s former campaign communications director, told MSNBC that while Pence brings a lot to the table, “If you’re going to say you’re going to vote for Ted Cruz, heaping praise on Donald Trump doesn’t really help you” in winning over the billionaire’s supporters.
The state represents Cruz’s final challenge in attempting to prevent Trump from locking up the nomination before the Republican national convention in Cleveland this July and forcing an open convention. Trump has 994 delegates after sweeping last Tuesday’s five primaries, and could get closer with strong showing next week in Indiana.
Cruz has virtually camped out in the state and has tried everything he could think of to rekindle support for his candidacy. He forged an improbable mutual aid pact with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, in which Kasich agreed to pull out of Indiana to boost Cruz’s chances of beating Trump in return for a similar favor from Cruz in other states – and then denied he made the deal. He also named former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina as his running mate if he wins the nomination.
Former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele told MSNBC that as part of changing the complexion of the race in Indiana, the combination of Cruz’s choice of Fiorina as his running mate and the Pence endorsement won’t have an appreciable effect in attracting voters to the Texan.
“I don’t think it draws anything, I think on a scale of one to ten it’s a 1.5,” he said.
“The supporters of Donald Trump are not going to say, ‘oh, he’s going to vote for Ted Cruz but look at all those great things he said about Donald Trump,” according to Tyler. “They don’t think that way at all. So he [Pence] may as well go all in, and he didn’t do that. I just think it’s a mistake. Either you’re in or you’re not, let’s not be half way. He sounds like a politician.”