The Beginning Of The End For Cruz? Here Are Five Things To Watch For In Indiana Today

Update: *PAUL RYAN SAYS TRUMP WILL BE NOMINEE IF HE WINS INDIANA: CNBC

Today's primary in the Hoosier State could prove to be the last stand for Ted Cruz and John Kasich, as The Donald looks to deliver the final knockout blow to the two challengers. If Trump wins, it certainly would be an embarrassment for a GOP establishment that has literally done everything it can to stop Trump, most recently touting the Cruz/Kasich alliance that self-destructed just hours after it was announced.

On the Democrat side of things, Hillary looks to build on her lead and silence Bernie's recent calls for a contested convention.

Here is how the GOP race stands heading into today

Most of the polls show Trump firmly in command

And here is how the Democrats stand

With polls showing Hillary leading comfortably

Here are five things to watch for today, courtesy of The Hill

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 by laying off hundreds of campaign staffers.

 

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?

*  *  *

As Philip Diehl notes, via The Hill, this is The Beginning of The End for Cruz…

Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) has run a brilliant campaign, and if it were not for Donald Trump, he'd probably be on the verge of wrapping up the Republican nomination by now. The Texas firebrand knew long before others that the party's primary schedule and delegate allocation rules played to his advantage, not to an establishment candidate like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. From his arrival in the Senate, Cruz has bent the political space-time continuum around himself by demonstrating GOP leaders' inability to govern effectively or deliver on their promises to conservatives.

 

But he has made a fatal mistake. After excoriating the GOP establishment in the Senate and on the campaign trail, Cruz has now made common cause with the party in a desperate attempt to stop Trump. Wisconsin marked the turning point. Initially, he was coy about accepting the party's support. He did not court it, but Wisconsin was crucial to slowing Trump's momentum. And it worked. The Texan took 36 of the state's 42 delegates and appeared to have dealt a setback to the New York real estate mogul. But by cooperating with the party in Wisconsin, Cruz crucially altered the narrative of the campaign. The core of his electoral value proposition has been fierce opposition to the party's leaders. Once he tacitly accepted the party's embrace, he began to morph from a conservative stalwart to an opportunist.

 

The end of the beginning came in mid-March when establishmentarian Sen. Lindsey Graham(S.C.) endorsed Cruz. The beginning of the end came with Cruz's victory in Wisconsin on April 5, when the media portrayed it as a product of an unholy alliance between Cruz and the establishment. This narrative fed directly into discussions of scenarios in which Cruz would conduct raids on Trump's delegates. In turn, the party would make changes in the convention rules and use Trojan-horse delegates to hand the nomination to Cruz, or a white-knight candidate such as Speaker Paul Ryan (Wis.). Cruz appeared too-clever-by-half, or worse, a patsy being played by the establishment to, first, turn away Trump, then deny the nomination to Cruz.

 

A kiss by the GOP establishment in 2016 has been the kiss of death. This has been the most consistent pattern of the campaign. Yet, as strategic as Cruz has been in his run, he seems to have missed this cautionary lesson. Or perhaps he believed he was immune, or he felt the opportunity slipping away and acted in desperation.

 

According to the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Cruz hit his peak of the 2016 campaign on April 6, the day following the Wisconsin primary. After being stuck at 20 percent for two months, the Texas senator's support jumped 14 percentage points in 30 days, and he closed the gap with Trump to 7 points. The trend reversed when Cruz's Faustian bargain  became clear. He began to fade over the next 19 days and Trump's lead almost doubled.

 

The pattern is more evident in state polling. According to six polls conducted in New York between March 29 and April 7, Cruz's support stood at 19 percent around the time of the Wisconsin primary. By primary day, his share of the vote was less than 15 percent and he had lost by 46 points. In Maryland, an NBC/Marist College poll showed Cruz reaching his peak at 29 percent between April 5 and April 9 and closing the gap with Trump to 12 points. When the returns came in only 17 days later, Cruz had drawn less than 20 percent of the vote and lost by 36 points.

 

In Pennsylvania, two polls conducted between April 1 and April 7 showed Cruz with an average of 25 percent of the vote, 18 points down to Trump. When votes were counted, Cruz had won less than 22 percent of the vote and lost by 35 points. His support saw a similar dramatic collapse in Connecticut after the Wisconsin primary.

 

The pattern holds outside of the Northeastern states. A Field poll conducted in California between March 24 and April 4 showed Cruz's support at 32 percent, within 7 points of Trump. Three weeks later, a Fox News poll found the Texan's support had fallen to 22 percent and he was trailing Trump by 27 points.

 

All of these polls were conducted before Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich reached their ill-fated agreement to avoid competing with each other in Indiana, Oregon and New Mexico. Not only did the agreement have a very short half-life, but it cemented impressions that Cruz would make any deal with the party establishment to remain viable. Now he has tapped former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina in an attempt to put California back in play, a curious move considering that Fiorina was trounced in her 2010 Senate race in the state, in a Republican year against an apparently vulnerable incumbent. The move has all the markings of desperation.

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