The Indiana primary takes place tomorrow. As I wrote last week, Ted Cruz and John Kasich have teamed up in an effort to stop Donald Trump from winning the nomination. Part of this plan is for Cruz to win Indiana. He has a clear shot, this is his best possible effort.
“To ensure we nominate a Republican who can unify the Republican Party and win in November, our campaign will focus its time and resources in Indiana and in turn, clear the path for Governor Kasich to compete in Oregon and New Mexico,” said Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe.
But a recent poll shows Cruz trailing Trump 34-49. Kasich is in a predicted third place with 13 points. Another poll shows Cruz a little closer, with 35 to Trump’s 37, but he still hasn’t managed to get ahead of our favorite billionaire.
Cruz was banking on large blocs of unbound delegates, the only field in which he had managed to beat Donald Trump. “This is how elections are won in America,” he gloated after scoring the most delegates in Wyoming.
And then came Donald Trump’s sweeping victory throughout the northeast last week.
Just like the average voter, it turns out that delegates are also susceptible to shifts in public opinion. Many of them, wary of a convention battle that could tear the Republican Party apart, are reconsidering their commitment to the Texas Senator.
“Yes, you’re unbound, you can vote for whoever you want,” says Rick Becker, former North Dakota gubernatorial candidate and Cruz supporter. “But if Trump gets really close, should you even ignore your wishes, ignore your congressional district’s wishes, and just vote for Trump to try to salvage the Republican party from being torn apart?”
“I think [last Tuesday’s vote] spooked a lot of people,” says North Dakota delegate Jim Poolman. He had previously decided on a first-ballot convention vote for Ted Cruz, but now he’s not sure. “I want to be clear, I think the will of the people does mean something, as well. Donald Trump has gotten a lot of support across the country, and just [last Tuesday], winning five [states] is one heckuva showing.”
Poolman says he is planning to make his first-ballot decision based on how the remaining primaries play out. Of the 10 North Dakota delegates on the Cruz slate, 5 are reconsidering their choice. “I have to admit I’ve been vacillating,” says Cruz-approved state senator David Hogue. He says he’s “firmly uncommitted.”
His senate colleague, Dick Denver, is also rethinking his original decision. “What I have said is I’m leaning towards Cruz, but I’m not committed to anybody…after [Tuesday’s vote], I think Trump has the momentum going forward.” Denver finds it telling that Cruz lost to Kasich in all but one of the northeastern contests. “I think that was a real shift.”
The wavering of Cruz supporters in North Dakota further raises the stakes of tomorrow’s vote in Indiana. Even if he does win tomorrow, Cruz will need to prove that he can continue winning – in California and other states – to satisfy the delegates who worry about what might happen in July.
“No matter what happens in Cleveland, I am in the ‘anybody-but-Hillary’ camp,” says Poolman. “The most important objective is to get a nominee and unite the party…My goal, personally is to not let our convention become a circus.”
North Dakota’s opinion is reflected across southern states, an area of the nation that was supposed to be Cruz’s main bulwark. “Honestly, we didn’t think he [Trump] could get this far. And he did,” says Arkansas Republican Jonathan Barnett, a Republican national committeeman.
Barnett says he’ll do whatever it takes to win in November, even if that means supporting Donald Trump.