Politics & Policy

Why Cruz Is Going All-In on Indiana

(Steve Pope/Getty)

Ted Cruz’s team knew that Donald Trump would run away with his native New York Tuesday. And they expect he’ll win the lion’s share of delegates at stake next week when a slate of northeastern states votes. So they’ve spent the last two weeks looking ahead, quietly laying the groundwork for a kitchen-sink campaign in a state they can’t afford to let Trump win: Indiana.

The Hoosier State doesn’t vote until May 3, and Cruz certainly isn’t ignoring the contests in between. He spent time this week in both Maryland and Pennsylvania, the two states his campaign is confident will yield them a respectable number of delegates next Tuesday.

But Indiana has emerged as Cruz’s top priority. It awards 57 delegates, and Cruz’s brain trust believes a clean sweep there — or close to it — would erase Trump’s already-thin margin for error and effectively end his hopes of entering Cleveland with 1,237 delegates. Accordingly, they have been preparing to throw everything they have at the state, in an effort to reapply the formula that worked to such devastating effect in Wisconsin.

Still, Indiana, despite its demographic similarities, isn’t Wisconsin — and the perfect storm that lifted Cruz to victory there April 5 could prove impossible to recreate. The conservative talk-radio army that toppled Trump is nowhere to be found. There is no sign — yet — of a multimillion-dollar assault by outside groups on the GOP front-runner. And unlike Wisconsin, where Cruz was backed by much of the Republican establishment, Indiana’s top officials have not rallied to him. (John Kasich, who badly underperformed in Wisconsin, could be a factor in that regard: A majority of Indiana’s recently elected delegates support him, according to the Indianapolis Star.)

RELATED: Why Cruz Is the Likely Choice at the Convention

Cruz can control only one of those things, and on that front there are signs of progress. National Review has learned that the senator will hold a one-hour private meeting with Indiana governor Mike Pence prior to this Thursday’s Indianapolis GOP spring dinner, where he is scheduled to deliver a speech and sit at the governor’s table. The two first discussed these plans on a phone call last Friday, sources say.

‘This is just re-running Wisconsin. We have a blueprint and it works,’ says a Cruz adviser. ‘And we’ve got the time to set it up in Indiana.’

Cruz would love to lock down Pence’s endorsement, knowing that the governor’s network could lend him a significant organizational edge in the state — just as Scott Walker’s did in Wisconsin. But sources say Pence — who loathes Trump, according to longtime friends who have spoken with the governor about the GOP front-runner — nonetheless has deep concerns about wading into the presidential race amid his own fight for re-election. (Pence’s office disputes that characterization of his feelings toward Trump.) If Pence doesn’t come on board, Cruz’s team is planning to deploy its next best option: Walker himself, who is a known commodity in Indiana and will likely be used as a surrogate there.

He won’t be alone. There is preliminary talk of Cruz assembling a high-profile team of GOP surrogates and bringing them to Indiana, according to sources familiar with the Cruz campaign’s internal deliberations. The goal would be to project unprecedented party unity against Trump with a roster of supporters that, in addition to familiar faces such as Walker and Carly Fiorina, could include Jeb Bush or even Mitt Romney.

Such a grand gesture would speak to Indiana’s strategic importance; it would also signal Cruz’s recognition that his campaign cannot afford to be complacent and assume a repeat of Wisconsin, given the many parallels that exist between the two states and the frequency with which his team discusses them.

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That said, it obviously makes sense for Cruz to dust off the Wisconsin playbook as his team prepares for Indiana. The similarities are striking, beginning with polling on the ground. There are no recent public surveys of the state, but weeks of private polling show Trump stuck in the low 30s — exactly where his numbers were two weeks before Wisconsin, and where they wound up on primary night. Notably, Cruz’s numbers aren’t any better — nor were they at this point in Wisconsin, before his supporters joined with anti-Trump forces to wage an all-out assault on the state.

“This is just re-running Wisconsin. We have a blueprint and it works,” says a Cruz adviser. “And we’ve got the time to set it up in Indiana.”

#share#From 30,000 feet, Wisconsin and Indiana look nearly identical: Neighbors in the upper Midwest, the states have comparable GOP electorates, and they break down along similar demographic and geographic lines. Indiana on the whole is poorer and less educated than Wisconsin, but is also more religious and more ideologically conservative, meaning Trump’s and Cruz’s advantages would likely offset. Wisconsin saw Cruz score a double-digit statewide victory by running up the margins in Milwaukee’s sprawling metropolitan areas, home to many of the affluent, white-collar, college-educated voters who have proven most susceptible to the anti-Trump message. But despite Cruz’s easily carrying the popular vote, Trump took home six delegates by winning the state’s two most rural congressional districts. The delegate totals: Cruz 36, Trump six.

RELATED: The Cruz Campaign Shows Us the Tea Party Still Counts

Indiana presents a familiar dynamic, with many prototype anti-Trump Republicans clustered around Indianapolis and other population centers in the northeast (Fort Wayne) and northwest (suburban Chicago). Cruz allies are supremely confident they will win statewide, and hope to carry at least seven of the nine congressional districts. Two of the southern districts bordering Kentucky — the eighth and ninth — are thought to be Trump territory, and the sixth should be highly competitive as well. (Notably, none of those three districts are home to any of the state’s six most populous counties.) All told, with 30 delegates going to the statewide winner, and three to the winner of each congressional district, Cruz advisers are confident that Indiana’s split will look very similar to Wisconsin’s: Cruz 51, Trump six, or potentially Cruz 48, Trump nine.

Cruz allies are supremely confident they will win statewide, and hope to carry at least seven of the nine congressional districts.

This hinges, of course, on the continued effectiveness of what thus far has been an unrivaled field operation. After a highly successful experiment with hosting hundreds of out-of-state volunteers in dormitory housing at what was called “Camp Cruz” in Iowa, the campaign created similar, albeit smaller, operations in other states — most recently, Wisconsin. Many of the unpaid volunteers who spearheaded that April 5 victory moved straight to Indiana, where another “Camp Cruz” has been erected. The campaign has also opened four offices around the state and is employing a sizable paid staff on the ground. The next two weeks, and especially from April 27 on, pro-Cruz forces are expected to mount an organizational blitz on Indiana’s three biggest population centers, aiming to push the numbers there so high that Trump wouldn’t be able to offset them even with dominating performances everywhere else.

As in Wisconsin, Cruz’s own ground game will likely be supplemented with dozens of paid volunteers working for a pair of pro-Cruz super PACs. But in Wisconsin, Cruz had help from a chorus of other outside actors, and it’s unclear how much of that he’ll get in Indiana. It’s widely acknowledged within conservative circles that some of the big-donor money has begun to dry up, and that many of the anti-Trump organizers are understandably rationing resources so they can compete not just through June 7, but through a contested convention as well.

RELATED: Cruz Is a Safer General-Election Bet than Trump

Officials with the Club for Growth and Our Principles PAC — both of which spent upwards of $1 million against Trump in Wisconsin — have said they expect to hit Trump just as hard in Indiana. Though no ad time has yet been reserved, Club leaders boast that they are well-prepared, having collected data on GOP voters through polling of the state’s U.S. Senate race. “In Indiana, the first priority for voters is nominating a conservative. . . . And that’s a group that supports Ted Cruz,” says David McIntosh, the Club for Growth’s president and a former Indiana congressman. “We’ve seen that. So it’s fair to say we’re paying special attention to the state.”

#related#McIntosh’s group is conducting more polling in Indiana this week, and is expected to reserve a seven-figure buy soon thereafter. But anything less than matching expenditures from other like-minded groups could signal trouble — if not for Cruz in Indiana, then for the financial health of anti-Trump forces moving forward.

At least Cruz won’t be competing with other causes on May 3: Indiana has the day to itself on the primary calendar, like Wisconsin did on April 5, inviting at minimum one week’s investment of undivided attention and resources. Wisconsin, Cruz allies argue, validated their theory that in a winnowed field Trump cannot defeat Cruz when both campaigns concentrate their organizational efforts on a single state. Indiana will represent a test of that theory: Trump has opened campaign offices in the state and is expected to spend more time and money there than he did in Wisconsin.

And while Cruz scored dinner and some face-time with the governor, Trump beat him to the state by a day: He’s holding a rally Wednesday at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, and thousands are expected to attend.

EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED.

— Tim Alberta is the chief political correspondent for National Review.

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