Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin endorsed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a campaign rally in Ames, Iowa. (Reuters)

AMES, Iowa -- Sarah Palin, the conservative icon and champion of the tea party movement, endorsed Republican front-runner Donald Trump Tuesday at a campaign rally here.

“No more pussyfootin' around. Our troops deserve the best! You deserve the best,” she told the crowd. “....I'm here to support the next president of the United States: Donald Trump!”

The endorsement is a major pick-up for Trump, who has been struggling to maintain a share of the lead in Iowa ahead of the Feb. 1 caucuses as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a darling of the tea party, has gained support and major endorsements. Palin's nod serves a stinging blow to Cruz, who received the backing of the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate during his Senate campaign in 2012.

“I love Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin is fantastic. Without her friendship and support I wouldn’t be in the Senate today," Cruz said Tuesday, minutes before her endorsement was confirmed. “And so regardless of what Sarah decides to do in 2016 I will always remain a big, big fan of Sarah Palin’s.”

Ted Cruz said on the campaign trail on Jan. 19 that "Sarah Palin is fantastic," despite her endorsement on Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump. (Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)

Palin, the former governor of Alaska who was John McCain's running mate in 2008, has continued to be a popular spokeswoman for conservatives, especially socially conservative Christians, long after leaving office in her home state. She frequently offers political commentary on cable news channels, has starred in a reality television show and is regularly a featured guest at conservative conventions. Her memoir, published in 2009, sold more than 2 million copies and was one of the fastest-selling political books in history.

Palin’s endorsement record is mixed, but her backing of Cruz’s Senate bid was a major boost to his 2012 campaign.

Palin and Trump share a number of similarities: Both have starred in reality television shows and written best-selling books. Both have made controversial statements that have horrified the Republican establishment while further endearing conservatives to their cause. Both know how to fire up a massive rally crowd. And both ate their pizza with a knife and fork when spotted at a Times Square restaurant in 2011.

In July, Trump said in a radio interview he would "love" to have Palin in his administration "because she really is somebody who knows what's happening and she's a special person." In September, Palin appeared alongside Trump and Cruz at a Capitol Hill rally against the Obama administration’s Iran deal. In December, Palin said she had narrowed her 2016 shortlist to those two, and that her daughter Willow Palin backed Trump.

"I'm not going to pick one right now, but what a nice problem to have if it came down to Cruz and Trump," Palin told CNN in December. "That's a good problem for voters to have, because we know that, as you say, they are both strong and very decisive and someone who would take the initiative. That is what we need today, and both of those candidates would fit that bill."

Katie Zezima contributed to this report