TULSA, Oklahoma (AP) — Conservative firebrand Sarah Palin joined Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Oklahoma Wednesday as part of her endorsement pledge in the increasingly intense race for the GOP nomination.
"Are you all ready to work to make America great again?" Palin asked a crowd of thousands packed into an arena at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, echoing Trump's campaign mantra.
Palin, who was absent from Trump's Wednesday morning event in Norwalk, Iowa, despite a scheduled appearance, rejoined the Trump campaign in Tulsa, warming up the crowd ahead of the candidate's speech. But Palin also struck a personal tone, alluding to problems her son and other returning military vets endure when returning to civilian life.
"It's kind of the elephant in the room," she began, addressing her family's struggle.
Palin's oldest son, Track, was arrested earlier this week in a domestic violence case in which his girlfriend told police she was afraid he would shoot himself with a rifle. Track Palin was charged with assault, interfering with the report of a domestic violence crime and possessing a weapon while intoxicated in connection with the incident.
"They come back a bit different. They come back a bit hardened," she said. "They come back wondering if there is that respect for what it is that their fellow soldiers and airmen and every other member of the military so sacrificially have given to this country. And that starts from the top," she said.
A spokeswoman for Trump's campaign did not immediately respond to questions about why Palin was a no show at the Iowa event.
Palin, the former governor of Alaska and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, erupted onto the stage in Ames, Iowa, Tuesday, announcing her support for Trump and declaring "no more pussy-footing around."
"Yesterday was amazing in every way," Trump told supporters, as he kicked off another day of campaigning with less than two weeks to go before Iowa's kick-off caucuses. "Sarah came along and she said we love what's happening. It's a movement."
The endorsement comes as Trump is locked in a dead heat with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Iowa. The two have been ramping up their attacks against one another as the Feb. 1 caucuses have neared.
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, Cruz said, "Regardless of what Sarah intends to do in 2016, I will remain a big, big fan of Sarah Palin."
Palin endorsed Cruz in his 2012 Senate race and said as recently as last month that he and Trump were both in her top tier of candidates, making the endorsement a symbolic blow to Cruz.
"I think it throws a pie into Sen. Cruz's face," said Trump supporter Tim Oelschlager, 56, who was at Wednesday's event in Norwalk. "It's kind of like somebody barbecuing in your backyard, setting up a tent in your backyard."
Earlier Tuesday, Cruz faced another blow to his efforts in Iowa, after the state's Republican Gov. Terry Branstad said at a renewable fuels conference near Des Moines that Iowans should reject Cruz because he supports phasing out the fuel standard. Asked if he wants to see Cruz defeated in Iowa, Branstad responded: "Yes."
"I understand exactly what he's saying. And I think it has to do with more than ethanol," Trump said Wednesday, when he praised Branstad as "an amazing guy."
"Yesterday was a double. You had that statement and you had Sarah Palin," Trump reveled. "That was a good day for Trump."
During his remarks in Iowa on Wednesday, Trump also zeroed in on Cruz, offering some of his most pointed attack lines yet. In addition to repeating questions about whether Cruz's Canadian birth makes him ineligible to be president, he also pointed to bank loans Cruz failed to disclose.
"Goldman Sachs owns him, remember that folks," Trump charged. "I think when you go to caucus, you should think about that problem."
Palin's endorsement speech Tuesday evening combined the folksy charm and everywoman appeal that initially made her a GOP superstar with defiant taunting of a "busted" GOP establishment that she slammed for counting both Trump and herself out.
Palin offered her full-throated support for Trump and slammed President Barack Obama as the "capitulator in chief." Trump, she said, would be a commander in chief who would "let our warriors do their job and go kick ISIS' ass!"
She also took aim at the Republican establishment for "attacking their own front-runner" and offered a challenge to those who have suggested that Trump, whose positions on issues like gun control and abortion rights have shifted over the years, isn't conservative enough.
"Oh my goodness gracious. What the heck would the establishment know about conservativism?" she said. "Who are they to tell us that we're not conservative enough? ... Give me a break."
Colvin reported from Norwalk, Iowa.