House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) endorsed former senator and governor George Allen for the U.S. Senate on Monday, calling him a “proven common sense conservative.”

In a crowded primary for the Republican nomination in what is expected to be one of the most-watched Senate races of 2012, Allen faces Jamie Radtke, former chairwoman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation, and wealthy Northern Virginia businessman Tim Donner, among others.

Cantor, the House’s No. 2 Republican, said he supports Allen despite the fact that the former senator did not back Congress’s recent debt-ceiling bill. He said that they share similar philosophies on taxes and spending, and that Allen has shown he can boost the economy and create jobs.

Allen has tried to portray himself as a tea-party-friendly candidate who would help rein in spending, repeal the health-care overhaul and reform government through a line-item veto requirement for the president.

But Allen, who served four years as governor and six years as a senator, has been criticized by some Republicans as a congressional moderate who shares blame for the record spending and ballooning deficit in Washington.

Allen has also been endorsed by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who said Allen fought for a balanced budget amendment. “That is something we take a strong stand on,” he said.

“Majority Leader Cantor and Congressmen Griffith and Goodlatte are fighting hard in Washington to stop the Senate Democrats’ job-crushing, big-spending agenda,” Allen said. “By taking control of the U.S. Senate away from Harry Reid, we can finally start acting on the efforts by Leader Cantor and other Republicans in the House of Representatives to help create jobs and restore fiscal responsibility.”

The winner of the primary will probably face former governor Tim Kaine (D) in the general election.

"I hate the be the bearer of bad news, but if Representative Cantor was looking to endorse a 'small government' conservative, he's got the wrong guy,'' said Kaine spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine. "As a senator, George Allen voted to add more than $3 trillion to the national debt and voted for tens of thousands of earmarks totaling over $90 billion. As governor, big-spending Allen doled out every cent he could get his hands on, growing state spending by over 20 percent. The only candidate in this race with a record of cutting state spending and doing it in a way that protected Virginia's reputation as the best state for business is Tim Kaine."