WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Tuesday won the endorsement of evangelical Christian leader Jerry Falwell Jr. for the party's 2016 presidential nomination, the Trump campaign said.
Falwell, the president of Liberty University in Virginia and son of late televangelist Jerry Falwell Sr., picked Trump because he believes the billionaire businessman could "lead our country to greatness again," the campaign said in a statement.
Trump has been vying with his chief rival, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, for the evangelical vote as the nomination race nears its first contest, the Iowa caucuses, on Monday.
On Tuesday, Trump celebrated the endorsement on Twitter.
"Great honor- Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University, one of the most respected religious leaders in our nation, has just endorsed me!" tweeted Trump, who is a Presbyterian.
The endorsement came a week after Falwell introduced Trump before a speech he gave at the Christian university. In his introduction, Falwell said he saw similarities between Trump and his father, including a penchant to "speak his mind."
Trump's speech at the university was not without controversy.
Trump was criticized by many evangelicals for mistakenly referring to a book of the Bible as "Two Corinthians" instead of "Second Corinthians."
Critics said the misstep called into question Trump's Christian credentials.
Cruz, the son of a Baptist preacher, made a joke of his opponent's flub during a speech on Monday with a riff on an old Chrysler auto commercial: "Two Corinthians walk into a bar - Ah, yes, Ricardo Montalban - genuine Corinthian leather!"
(Reporting by Megan Cassella; Additional reporting by Amy Tennery and Eric Beech; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Jonathan Oatis)