Craig James. (Photo credit Texans For A Better America)

DALLAS (AP) – Ex-NFL running back and ESPN announcer Craig James on Thursday endorsed former opponent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican nomination runoff battle to fill Texas’ open U.S. Senate seat.

READ MORE: Pipeline Company Threatening To Cutoff Natural Gas Service To 5 Texas Power Plants

The Dewhurst campaign released a statement from James calling Dewhurst “a Texas patriot who will fight for our shared conservative values.” James attended an event to formally make his endorsement at the Dallas Republican Party headquarters, but the statement went out before he stepped to the podium.

Dewhurst faces a July 31 runoff election with the second-place finisher for the GOP Senate nomination, Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite and former state solicitor general.

James was one of four major candidates vying for the party’s nomination to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. But he struggled to gain much traction and finished a distant fourth in Tuesday’s primary, winning just 3.5 percent of the Republican ballots cast.

Ex-Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert finished third in the primary but has yet to endorse anyone.

“On July 31st, Texans will have a clear choice between David Dewhurst, a Texas conservative businessman, and Ted Cruz, a D.C. lawyer beholden to Washington insiders and politicians,” the Dewhurst statement quoted James as saying.

READ MORE: Crowley Police Investigating After Shooting Leaves 22-Year-Old Clinging To Life

Cruz has been backed by several national, limited-government groups, including the Washington-based Club For Growth.

James played at Southern Methodist University in Dallas from 1979 to 1982 and was a major part of the record-setting “Pony Express” backfield with Eric Dickerson.

The Mustangs won Southwest Conference championships in 1981 and 1982, but the team was also embroiled in several NCAA investigations.

In 1987, the NCAA hit SMU with the so-called “death penalty” for repeated infractions, shutting down the program for a year after concluding that the school continued to pay players, even after a 1985 promise to stop. SMU also chose not to play in 1988.

James had already been gone from SMU for several years when the penalty was imposed, but he acknowledges taking “insignificant amounts” while playing there. He had served as a college football analyst for EPSN, but left to run for Senate.

MORE NEWS: Police: 2 Men Arrested In UK As Part Of North Texas Synagogue Standoff Investigation

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)