(CN) - Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz at a Charleston rally Friday afternoon, lending a boost to the Texas senator's campaign just hours before polls open for the first-in-the-South primary.
The latest polls in South Carolina show the race to win the state narrowing between Cruz and billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump and Cruz, with 20 percent of likely voters saying they prefer Trump, and 23 percent saying they will vote for Cruz.
In the Meantime, Rep. Marco Rubio is now believed to be inching up for Cruz, making it a dead heat for second place should Trump ultimately prevailed.
The endorsement of the former governor, who is now a member of Congress is seen as a significant boost for Cruz in the southern tier of the state. Although he has made campaign appearances in the area before, Cruz has mostly concentrated his efforts on the more conservative, highly evangelical upstate region of South Carolina.
Sanford, who survived a sex scandal in his final year as governor that saw him branded the "Luv Gov" by a snickering press, came back to win a House seat in 2013 and is still wildly popular among many South Carolinians.
His endorsement of Cruz came after he appears to have considered both former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, whose Charleston rallies he attended earlier this week.
Sanford was a surprise added attraction at the second of four rallies Cruz is holding across the state on Friday. The presidential hopeful began his day in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and after Charleston, he headed to Columbia and Greenville.
He is being accompanied at all of these stops by Phil Robertson, the patriarch of television's "Duck Dynasty," who delivered a fire and brimstone speech on Cruz's behalf, and at one point declared "Guns and bibles and the one who wrote it brought us here ... and it will be Bibles and guns that keep us here."
The Cruz Rally at the College of Charleston's Sottile Theatre was an unusual affair, more akin to a religious revival service than a setting for a stump speach, featuring a taping of Fox News Anchor Sean Hannity's night time show; Sanford's endorsement; an endorsement from David Limbaugh, brother of conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh; and Robertson.
Sanford said he was supporting Cruz because he respect the senator's complete lack of fear in standing up to that body's leadership.
"We needed another fighter in Washington, in the Oval Office," said Sanford, who appeared in a button-down gray shirt and faded blue jeans.
Limbaugh said while there are "some other good candidates running" for the Republican nomination, "there is only on authentic strong constitutionalist."
He went on to call Cruz, "the closest thing we've had to Ronald Reagan in my lifetime."
"This is our last, best chance. We have to take it," Limbaugh said.
During the taping of Hannity's show, which will be shown in prime time Friday night, he and Cruz sat on stools on stage festooned with a large Cruz campaign banner, the United States and South Carolina flags, and television monitors that played Ted Cruz campaign commercials during breaks in the action.
So smitten was the crowd of about 1,000 that they even applauded the commercials and a video they should Cruz working the crowds at various campaign stops and, at one point, praying backstage as he prepared to address a gathering in Georgia.
Hannity also welcomed Cruz's wife to the stage and asked her how the couple has dealt with the barrage of negative ads that have targeted her husband.
"Politics is a blood sport down here," he observed.
"It doesn't bother Ted because he knows what he's doing," Heidi Cruz said.
Turning toward her husband she added, "He's principled."
Although Cruz refrained from lashing back at Trump or Rubio at length, he did take a slap at Trump when summing up why those in attendance should vote Cruz on Saturday.
"People in South Carolina want a conservative as our next president," he said. "It's easy to say, 'Make America great again.' The question is, do you understand what it was that made America great in the first place?"
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