ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Sarah Palin is back in the presidential race. Today, she endorsed Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SARAH PALIN: Mr. Trump, you're right. Look back there in the press box. Heads are spinning. Media heads are spinning. This is going to be so much fun.
SIEGEL: Trump is locked in a tight race with Ted Cruz in Iowa where the caucuses are now less than two weeks away. Earlier today, we reached NPR's Don Gonyea is in Ames, Iowa, right in the middle of Palin's endorsement.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: And just so you know, you can still hear her speaking in the background here as I talk to you. She gave a shout out to rock 'n' rollers and holy rollers, and it does feel a little bit like 2008 again, Robert. In terms of it being a big surprise, look; it's not a huge surprise that someone like Sarah Palin, who's been a favorite of the Tea Party and who's been to talking about kind of blowing up the system and going rogue and all of that kind of stuff for years, even as she has, up until a year ago, teased that she might be a candidate again herself, it's not a huge sock that she has decided that Donald Trump is the guy even though she has had close relations with Ted Cruz...
GONYEA: ...A close friendship, and some others in the race. But look. Here's how it played out over the last 24 hours. It did come up suddenly. We started to hear chatter yesterday and rumors, and operatives in Iowa were starting to tell me, hey, I think Sarah Palin's going to endorse Donald Trump. And then, you know, it didn't leak out at all. We got word that a flight plan had been set up for a private plane going from Anchorage to Des Moines. Well, that narrows it down (laughter), certainly, for a lot of us.
GONYEA: And then this morning, Bristol Palin, Sarah Palin's oldest daughter, was asked about it, and she said she didn't know. But she said she certainly hope she endorses Donald Trump, and then she took a shot at Ted Cruz because Ted Cruz has been going after Trump. And folks from the Cruz campaign were critical of Palin as this broke by saying if she endorses Trump, then that somehow diminishes her.
SIEGEL: Don, as you alluded to the close relationship between Palin and, we thought, with Ted Cruz, how much sense does it make for Palin to be endorsing Donald Trump after all?
GONYEA: You know, it will be interesting. Here we are. Iowa votes two weeks from yesterday, right? And we have seen what a Donald Trump campaign looks like over the course of the past six months with lots of, you know, bombast and outrageous statements and this and that. But we've never seen a Donald Trump trying to make a sale this close to an election, and this is certainly a big thing to drop on Iowa voters.
Now, how much clout does she have? She's been on the periphery of the race. There haven't been a lot of people wondering, where's Sarah Palin; why aren't we hearing more from her? But she is a big name. It will get a lot of attention. It is a real jab at Cruz because he's a Tea Party favorite. He had reason to think that maybe he would've gotten the support of Sarah Palin. So it probably, you know, has the potential to have some impact on that Trump-Cruz race. Beyond that, it's hard to say.
SIEGEL: Cruz took another jab today from Iowa Governor Terry Branstad who criticized him for his opposition to ethanol - very big in Iowa, of course. What's that all about?
GONYEA: And Branstad's a pretty big guy in Iowa, too, (laughter) in Republican politics. Look it. Cruz used to be against the ethanol subsidies which are very important to agriculture in Iowa. Then, as the caucuses had approached, he switched his position to say he should maybe phase it out, and Branstad's not buying it.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Don Gonyea, who is with the Trump campaign in Iowa, as you can hear in the background. That's Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and former Republican vice presidential candidate, who today endorsed Donald Trump. Don, thanks.
GONYEA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.