Nearly 10 months after first announcing his candidacy for the presidency, GOP front-runner Donald Trump stands on the precipice of clinching the Republican nomination with an Indiana victory. After a historically drawn-out GOP primary season bloodbath, the math and dynamics of the race are so precarious that a win in Indiana would likely seal the deal for Trump, and a loss could throw the party into greater uncertainty on a nominee.
Indiana will shell out its 57 delegates Tuesday — and 27 of them are bound three apiece to the winner of each of the state’s nine congressional districts. The remaining 30 delegates are all awarded to the statewide winner. In the latest poll, Trump has a 15-point lead over his next closest rival.
Cruz has vowed to fight through to the convention regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, but if he loses in Indiana, his path to a contested convention narrows substantially.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, heavily lobbied by both Cruz and Trump for an endorsement, voiced his support for the Texas senator on Friday. Still, it may be too little, too late.
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“I will be voting for Ted Cruz in the upcoming Republican primary,” Pence said during an interview on a local conservative radio talk show. “I see Ted Cruz as a principled conservative,” Pence said, also noting Cruz’s “strong and unwavering stand for the sanctity of life.”
The endorsement comes as the Cruz campaign hopes to replicate its victory in Wisconsin in the remarkably similar state of Indiana, but Pence’s endorsement was far more tepid than the full-throated backing Cruz earned from Gov. Scott Walker. Walker also went all-out for Cruz, doing multiple media appearances and appearing at campaign events. After a crucial weekend of campaign events, it is clear the support from Pence will not be supported by the same degree of commitment Walker commanded.
That lack of a powerful local voice in the state has left Cruz reliant on his new running mate, Carly Fiorina, and the same coalition of allies who carried him to victory in the Badger State. The powerful conservative super PAC Club for Growth has been hammering Indiana airways since before Trump’s Acela Primary victories with a pro-Cruz ad as part of a $1.7 million buy. The organization spent $1 million boosting Cruz in Wisconsin.
The Club for Growth’s effort is being joined by heavy investment from several other anti-Trump and pro-Cruz organizations that were present in Wisconsin. The Cruz-aligned Trusted Leadership PAC has spent nearly $1.6 million in the Hoosier State and the Establishment-aligned Our Principles PAC, another veteran of Wisconsin, has committed at least $1 million to stopping the Trump train’s acceleration in Indiana.
Joining the combined Cruz/anti-Trump battlefront are two organizations that weren’t present in Wisconsin: the American Future Fund and Never Trump PAC, a newly formed organization dedicated solely to tripping up the front-runner. But as the forces opposed to Trump blanket the state with a well-funded onslaught of ads, Trump is opening his wallet to more evenly contest his opponents, a lesson learned from his loss in Wisconsin.
Trump has spent roughly $1 million on ads of his own in the Hoosier State, after spending less than $500,000 in Wisconsin. Trump has also finally committed boots on the ground in a most-win contest. Chief strategist Paul Manafort said the Trump campaign would have roughly 40 staff in-state for the final “get out the vote” push headed into Tuesday. Trump will be looking to combine the momentum generated from his six-state win streak with the added ad firepower and on-the-ground organization to take Indiana and cut off Cruz’s path to a contested convention.
The front-runner is right to put greater resources and effort into the state than in Wisconsin. Cruz trounced Trump by 13 points in the Badger State, which shares nearly identical demographics to Indiana. Indiana is 80 percent non-Hispanic white, compared with 82 percent in Wisconsin, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Latino population in both states is minuscule, coming in at between 6 and 7 percent. Both states also notch low immigrant populations, with 4.8 and 4.7 percent foreign-born residents respectively.
[lz_table title=”Wisconsin and Indiana Compared” source=”U.S. Census Bureau “]Demographics,WI,IN
High School or Higher,91%,88%
Bachelors or Higher,27%,24%
People in both states are more likely than the national average to think economic conditions are getting worse, according to the Economic Confidence Index from Gallup. The pair also lead the nation as the top two states for manufacturing jobs as a percent of their overall employment.
Trump has made a focus on American workers and a revival of manufacturing the key theme of his populist appeal, though Cruz sensed the opportunity in the issue early, and has also grabbed onto the mantle of unfair trade. Having felt the sting of Cruz’s message supplanting his in Wisconsin, Trump’s ads in Indiana hope to separate the front-runner from Cruz on that central issue and leave no question in the minds of voters that trade is Trump’s concern.
“Bad trade deals supported by Ted Cruz have hurt Indiana,” one Trump ad opens. “Only Donald Trump will stand up to China, Japan, and Mexico and renegotiate bad trade deals,” the ad says.
Trump’s momentum has given him the upper hand in recent polls, but Cruz and his backers have held nothing back in Indiana and will continue to claw for an upset through Tuesday night.
It is fitting for Trump to do more than he has in Indiana and to put greater resources into the Hoosier State than any before — because the outcome Tuesday may truly determine whether the GOP has a presumptive nominee or could still be headed for a contested convention.
The question is: Will Cruz see a loss as the end of the road, or more reason to fight all the way to the GOP convention?