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By Vaughn Hillyard

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- For the first time in the 2016 presidential campaign, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz stood behind a Donald Trump campaign podium on Thursday. He was back in Iowa for the first time since exiting the presidential race in May, alongside GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence just five days before the election.

“This election has been a wild ride,” Cruz cracked after taking the microphone on stage inside a sheet metal barn just outside of Des Moines.

Yet the Texas senator, who endorsed the GOP nominee in September, neglected to acknowledge Trump by name in his first stop, instead imploring the supporters in attendance to send “a Republican” to the White House.

“Putting a Republican in the White House and keeping a Republican House and Senate is the whole enchilada,” Cruz said at the Pence campaign rally in the Hawkeye state, where he won the Iowa caucus just nine months ago.

“We are one liberal justice away from losing our constitutional rights,” Cruz declared.

He told the crowd that the “stakes in this election have never been higher in our country” before welcoming Pence, who had endorsed Cruz ahead of the Indiana GOP primary this spring, to the stage.

“He is someone who today I call my friend and someone I look very much forward to calling Mr. Vice President,” Cruz said.

Pence, in turn, suggested he and Cruz are “very good friends” and called the senator a “champion of conservative values all across America.”

After the Iowa rally, Cruz stepped onto the VP candidate’s campaign plane on behalf of the presidential candidacy of Trump, who over the last year marked him the moniker “Lyin’ Ted,” suggested his father was an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald and vowed to fund a super PAC to unseat him in his Senate re-election bid in 2018.

With the plane sitting in the distance, Cruz and Pence addressed reporters and Cruz looked to quash questions over his commitment to Trump and Pence.

“I’ll make a point — I am getting ready to get on a gigantic airplane that has Donald Trump’s name painted on the side of it,” Cruz said. “On Monday of this week, I voted for Donald Trump. I voted for Mike Pence.”

Then asked if he believed Pence was an enabler to Trump for not speaking out against Trump’s controversial statements and assertions, like the conspiracy that his father, Rafael Cruz, worked with John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Cruz demurred while putting his hand on Pence’s shoulder: “Listen, Mike Pence is a good man, and he’s a friend. And I’m proud to be standing with him campaigning.”

Cruz then traveled on the vice presidential candidate’s campaign plane to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he, again, laid out his reasoning for ultimately voting for the Trump ticket: The desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act, concern over the potential appointment of liberal-leaning U.S. Supreme Court justices and the desire to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning.

And in Michigan, unlike earlier in the day, Cruz vouched for his former rival by name: “If your health insurance premiums have gone up, like just about every persons in America, then you ought to vote for Donald Trump and Mike Pence and Republicans up and down the ticket.”

Cruz also called for the resignation of Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

The senator's agreement to join Pence on the campaign trail was perhaps the candidate’s most humbling moment in the national spotlight since a chorus of boos rang out when he told delegates at the Republican National Convention to “vote your conscience.”

In Iowa, when Cruz first introduced Pence to the stage, the governor walked out and linked his left arm with Cruz’s right arm as he pointed approvingly with his other point finger and gleamed a broad smile.