Trump looks for Indiana knockout

Trump looks for Indiana knockout
© Getty/Greg Nash

The battle for the Republican presidential nomination could come down to Tuesday’s primary in Indiana, where Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWhatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong This week: Congress gets ball rolling on tax reform Week ahead: Senators work toward deal to fix ObamaCare markets MORE is mounting a last-ditch effort to stop Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE.

A win for Trump could secure him as many as 57 delegates and put him on a glide path to the nomination on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention in July. A loss would cast significant doubt on that scenario.

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Both candidates are blitzing the state. Trump has held a number of rallies there, sometimes in the company of legendary basketball coach and Indiana icon Bobby Knight. He has also blasted Cruz in TV ads as supporting “bad trade deals [that] have hurt Indiana.”

But major groups opposed to Trump are spending seven-figure sums there to try to derail him.

Meanwhile, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence endorsed Cruz on Friday, and John Kasich, the only other remaining Republican candidate, has agreed not to campaign in the state to increase Cruz's chances of winning delegates away from Trump. 

But neither of those developments has provided a clear boost to Cruz. Pence’s endorsement came with warm words for Trump, and the Cruz-Kasich alliance has proved tenuous at best, with the Ohio governor urging his Indiana supporters to cast their ballots for him anyway.

With the eyes of the political world on the Hoosier State, different polls show markedly different pictures: One poll released on Friday had Trump leading by 9 points while another survey had Cruz ahead by 16.  

Overall, polling averages indicate Trump has a lead of around 5 points. The most recent major poll, released Sunday by NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist, suggested he was ahead by 15 points.

Many experts in the state assert that the business mogul is likely to pull out a victory.

“Trump does have an edge. I still think he is going to win,” said Mike Murphy, a Republican operative in Indiana who is not affiliated with the current candidates.

Margie Hershey, a political science professor at Indiana University, agreed.

“My guess for the moment is that it is probably not too close to call,” she said. “Donald Trump is probably going to eke out at least a bare majority here. If he does, he should get a substantial proportion of the Indiana delegates.”

The statewide winner in Indiana will get 30 delegates to start, and three delegates will be awarded to the victor in each of the state’s nine congressional districts. Trump currently has 996 delegates, according to The Associated Press’s delegate tracker. Winning the nomination at the convention in Cleveland requires 1,237 delegates. 

Still, there remains a strong element of unpredictability about the race.

Opinion polls have not been numerous in Indiana, and the fact that the state does not require voters to register by party make the results harder to predict. Indianans only register as voters and can ask for a Republican or Democratic ballot on primary day.

But the state’s demographics seem to favor the business mogul. 

One of the pillars of Trump’s success, for example, is support among voters without college degrees. The proportion of adults in Indiana with a college degree — 24.7 percent, according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau, from 2014 — is lower than in all but eight states. 

Exit polls from this year’s Republican primaries in the adjacent states of Illinois and Michigan indicate the proportion of college-educated voters could prove decisive.  

In Illinois, Trump had an advantage of a single percentage point over Cruz among college graduates, but he led by 15 points among those without degrees. In Michigan, Trump lost among college graduates to Kasich by 3 points, but he beat Cruz by 21 points and Kasich by 27 points among nongraduates.

Trump’s economic message could also resonate in the state, home to many manufacturing jobs. On a single day in February, two companies announced that they were shifting production from Indiana to Mexico, a decision projected to result in the loss of 2,100 jobs. 

James McCann, a political science professor at Purdue University, argued that workers in heavy industry “might be very open to his message of economic populism and nationalism.” 

Still, McCann was less convinced than others that Trump would roll to victory. He noted that the same economic message that might appeal to workers struggling with the prevailing trends in manufacturing might have much less appeal in Indiana’s significant agricultural sector which “is heavily dependent on global trade and also heavily dependent on immigrant labor.”  

He also noted that Cruz could hope to activate “the evangelical religious networks” in a bid to win the state.

Other experts, however, noted that Trump has performed more strongly than expected among evangelicals.

His partisans are adamant that Trump has the momentum as the campaign in the state reaches its climax.

“I think for sure Donald Trump will take this election easily,” said Carrie Petty, a former executive director of the Indiana Republican Party who went on to serve as the state director for Ben Carson’s now-suspended presidential bid.

Petty, a Trump supporter, cited the attendance at Trump’s rallies as evidence of his likely victory, adding that  “the polls are saying that, and the social media is on fire.”