Trump seeks slam dunk over Cruz in Indiana primary

Tuesday’s Hoosier State primary is do-or-die for Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump faces mounting pressure to unleash Defense Production Act Overnight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' GOP blames environmental efforts, but Democrats see public health problems with stimulus MORE, as front-runner Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump orders US troops back to active duty for coronavirus response Trump asserts power to decide info inspector general for stimulus gives Congress Fighting a virus with the wrong tools MORE hopes to put to rest any doubts about who the Republican presidential nominee will be.

As late as Friday, the Texas senator was saying the race would come down to Indiana. After polls this weekend showed Trump ahead in the state by double digits, Cruz walked back that rhetoric even as he tried to blanket the state before voters go to the polls.

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On the Democratic side, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton on US leading in coronavirus cases: Trump 'did promise "America First"' Democratic fears rise again as coronavirus pushes Biden to sidelines Clintons send pizza to NY hospital staff treating coronavirus MORE is trying to win her sixth out of the last seven contests and get closer to wrapping up the Democratic nomination, and rival Bernie SandersBernie SandersHillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Overnight Energy: Court upholds Trump repeal of Obama fracking rule | Oil price drop threatens fracking boom | EPA eases rules on gasoline sales amid coronavirus The Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders pushes on in 2020 race MORE wants to prove the race can go to a contested convention.

Here are five things to watch for on Tuesday night:

 

Do Cruz’s gambles work?

Cruz has already been mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination on the first ballot at July’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland. But he has been feverishly campaigning across Indiana and trying to shake up the race. 

Last week, the Texas senator’s campaign announced he had forged an alliance with third-place contender John Kasich in the hope that the Ohio governor’s supporters would vote for Cruz in Indiana and keep Trump from winning as many delegates.

But the pact quickly unraveled as the candidates sent mixed messages. Kasich canceled events in the state but insisted he wouldn’t tell 
supporters to vote for his opponent; Cruz denied he’s working with Kasich at all.

A few days later, Cruz named Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential pick if he’s the nominee. The rare gamble of naming a running mate at this stage hasn’t happened since 1976. At an Indianapolis rally, Fiorina sought to convince voters that Trump and Clinton are two of a kind.

The Cruz-Fiorina duo received a tepid reception, however, and strategists said it underscores his desperation.

Cruz had been benefitting of late from anti-Trump sentiment, but his fortunes appear to have suffered as the billionaire gets closer to the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

Over the weekend, one poll showed him behind by as many as 17 points, and he now says California will be the decisive state. A win in Indiana, however, could renew the hopes by Republicans that he could be a viable alternative to Trump.

 

How much closer does Trump get to 1,237?

Following his clean sweep of five primaries in the Northeast last week, Trump declared himself the “presumptive nominee,” and a victory in the Hoosier State would bring him closer to the reality of avoiding a contested convention in Cleveland.

Indiana is still a tight race, though, with two polls on Friday showing conflicting results: One found Cruz with a double-digit lead, while another survey showed Trump ahead by 9 points. And a survey released over the weekend found Trump with a 15-point lead.

Trump received a notable endorsement from former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight, while Cruz embarrassed himself at a rally by calling a basketball hoop a basketball “ring.”

And while Gov. Mike Pence says he’ll be voting for Cruz on Tuesday, he also praised Trump, saying he “has given voice to the frustration of millions of working Americans with a lack of progress in Washington, D.C.”

Trump needs only 241 delegates to clinch the nomination and avoid a contested convention, according to The Associated Press delegate tracker.

Indiana holds a winner-take-most contest. The statewide winner will receive 30 delegates, and 27 more will be awarded through winner-take-all contests in each congressional district.

If he wins all 57 delegates, the real estate mogul would need as little as 41 percent of the remaining delegates. 

 

If Cruz loses Indiana, will the anti-Trump movement fall apart?

The major Never Trump groups are going all-in for a Cruz victory in Indiana.

The Club for Growth Action poured in $1.7 million for ads attacking Trump, and Our Principles PAC has spent at least $1 million in the state. 

These groups hope to stymie Trump’s momentum in Indiana, but Our Principles PAC chairwoman Katie Packer conceded that a Trump victory would make efforts to stop him in California’s June primary more difficult. 

“We certainly see Indiana as crucial for Trump. If he doesn’t win Indiana, he can’t get to 1,237,” Packer told The Hill last week. “If he does win Indiana, then it all comes down to California. No question about it; it makes our job a lot harder.”

If Trump can’t be stopped in Indiana, the looming question will be whether the Never Trump movement thinks spending more money is worthwhile.

 

Can Clinton hold off Sanders?

Clinton is also running on significant momentum after winning four of the five primaries last week and New York’s the week before. Her victory speech last week made it clear she’s channeling much of her attention to the fall by repeatedly attacking Trump.

Sanders has been making a push in the Hoosier State, spending at least $1 million on TV ads, though the campaign will cut about $200,000 from its ad spending there and also recently said it would lay off hundreds of campaign staffers in states that have already held primary contests.

There’s been minimal polling in the state, but a survey over the weekend found Clinton up 4 points, within the margin of error. A poll released Friday found her leading by 8 points.

But Indiana’s demographics don’t look favorable for Sanders. The northern part of the state is heavily African-American, a voter bloc that Clinton continues to win by overwhelming margins.

His one saving grace could be the state’s voter registration system, which allows voters to participate in either primary. That means he could attract independents, who tend to gravitate toward his campaign.

“It’s not the greatest state in the world for Bernie Sanders,” Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said. “The fact that it’s open is good because he does very well in open primaries. But he may be too liberal for Democrats down that way. It’s going to depend a lot on turnout among independents.”

Clinton is shy of the Democratic nomination by 218 delegates, including superdelegates, according to the AP’s tracker. Sanders would need to win every remaining pledged delegate and sway more superdelegates to his side to reach that threshold. 

Indiana Democrats award 83 delegates proportionally.

 

Is Sanders in to win or to influence?

Sanders and his campaign maintain that the Vermont senator will stay in the race until the Democratic National Convention in July.

This differs from senior strategist Tad Devine’s remarks after Sanders lost in New York that the campaign will “assess where we are” after the Northeastern primaries. But after a bad night, Sanders still says he isn’t going anywhere.

The mixed messages and recent campaign layoffs leave some wondering whether Sanders still sees a path to victory or if he’s just angling for leverage at the convention and a chance to mold the party’s platform.

At a recent town hall, Sanders placed the responsibility on Clinton to woo his supporters and wouldn’t definitively say whether he’d back her as the nominee. Clinton fired back, chiding him for setting conditions for his support and calling for the party to unify.

He has since said he’ll do anything to prevent a Republican from winning the White House and admits that his path to the nomination is “narrow.”

Bannon said Sanders’s recent comments sound more like “a concession speech.”

“The way I read Bernie, it’s a guy who’s come to grips he’s not going to be the Democratic nominee for president,” Bannon said.

At a Sunday press conference, however, Sanders said he and Clinton were headed to a contested convention. Will Sanders and his surrogates come to a clear position after Tuesday, win or lose?