Republican Ted Cruz faces a high-stakes test for his slumping presidential campaign in Indiana primary – seen as the last opportunity for him to halt Donald Trump’s stunning march toward the party’s presidential nomination.
Texas senator has spent the past week camped out in Indiana, securing the support of the state’s governor and announcing retired technology executive Carly Fiorina as his running mate. Yet his aides are prepared for Mr Cruz to fall short. Even though he is set to lose out to Mr Trump, Mr Cruz vowed to stay in the race regardless of the results.
“I am in for the distance, as long as we have a viable path to victory,” Mr Cruz said.
Mr Trump devoted more time to campaigning in Indiana than he has to most other states, underscoring his eagerness to put his Republican rival away and shift his attention toward Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
While Mr Trump cannot clinch the nomination with a big win in Indiana, his path would get easier and he would have more room for error in the campaign’s final contests.
“Indiana is very important, because if I win that’s the end of it. It would be over,” Mr Trump said.
Republican leaders have spent months dismissing Mr Trump as little more than an entertainer who would fade once voting started. But Republican primary voters have stuck with the billionaire businessman, handing him victories in every region of the country, including a string of six straight wins on the East Coast.
Meanwhile Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders also faced off in Indiana’s Democratic primary on Tuesday although Clinton holds a commanding lead over Sanders – she has secured 91 per cent of the delegates she needs to win the nomination. That means she can still win the nomination even if she loses every remaining contest.
Sanders has conceded that he faces a difficult path to overtake Clinton, one that hinges on convincing superdelegates to back him over the former secretary of state. Superdelegates are Democratic Party insiders who can support the candidate of their choice, regardless of how their states vote. They favour Mrs Clinton by a nearly 18-1 margin.
Mrs Clinton’s team has started deploying staff to states that will be crucial in November and is also raising money for the fall campaign. Even as Mr Trump hires more staff to round out his slim team, he already lags far behind Mrs Clinton in general election preparations.
A showdown between Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump would pit one of the Democrats’ most popular and highly-regarded figures against a first-time political candidate who is deeply divisive within his own party. Mr Cruz and other Republicans have argued that Mr Trump would be roundly defeated in the general election, denying their party the White House for a third straight term.
But Mr Trump is the only Republican left in the race who can secure the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination through regular primary voting. Cruz – as well as Ohio Governor John Kasich, who trails significantly in the delegate count – must try to block Mr Trump in Indiana and the handful of other remaining states to push the race toward a contested convention.
In an abrupt strategy shift, Mr Cruz and Mr Kasich announced an alliance of sorts in Indiana.