It's all going to be decided in Indiana ... isn't it?
Ever since Donald Trump's blowout victory in New York two weeks ago, pundits and candidates alike have been looking to the Hoosier State as the last stand for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and anti-Trump forces in the Republican primary. Without Indiana's delegates, they've argued, it will be difficult to keep Trump from getting the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination outright.
But with polling showing Cruz still trailing Trump on the eve of the primary, Cruz and his allies are changing their tune a bit--and lowering expectations to suggest that winning Indiana is less do-or-die and more would-be-nice.
There's a good reason for that change: despite investing time and resources into the state, Cruz is still trailing Trump in most recent polling there. A Sunday Wall Street Journal/NBC/Marist poll found Trump with a 15-point lead over Cruz, taking 49 percent to Cruz's 34 percent. A CBS News Battleground Tracker poll out the week before had Cruz trailing by 5 points (40 percent to 35 percent) and one from Fox News pegged it at 8 points (41 percent to 33 percent).
Cruz has made it abundantly clear that he's putting all his chips on the table in Indiana. While his GOP opponents were still spending time in the five Northeastern states that voted last Tuesday, Cruz had already moved on to Indiana.
In an unprecedented move, Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced last Sunday night that they were teaming up and dividing up states in order to keep Trump from getting to 1,237. Kasich gave Cruz a clear path in Indiana, while Cruz vowed to do the same for Kasich in Oregon and New Mexico.
Then, seeking to turn attention away from his poor showing in the April 26 Northeastern primaries, he on Wednesday announced Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential running mate at an event in Indiana. And Indiana Gov. Mike Pence announced Friday that he's endorsing Cruz, penning an op-ed on his behalf and hitting the campaign trail with him the day before the primary.
He's even explicitly said Indiana was the deciding primary. "It gives me great comfort that this primary is going to be decided by the Midwestern common sense of the Hoosier State," Cruz said during a Fox News town hall in Indianapolis last week.
Contrast that with Sunday, when Cruz sounded a different tone: asked whether the race is over if Trump wins Indiana on Tuesday, he told Fox News Sunday: "Of course not."
On Saturday, Cruz left the Indiana campaign trail for a day in order to speak at the California GOP state convention, where he told local Republicans: "California is going to decide this Republican primary."
"Well, listen, I agree that Indiana is incredibly important," he said. "I think regardless of what happens in Indiana, Donald Trump is not getting to 1,237."
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, too, said Sunday that Indiana is important but not necessarily do-or-die for the Stop Trump movement. "Well, I think Indiana's a big test of it," he said, adding: "I'm advising Ted to go to the last vote."
"Trump's gotten 40 percent of the popular vote--that doesn't give you 1,237 delegates," he continued. "I think you could still stop him even if you lose Indiana."
It's not just Cruz. After sitting out the Northeast primaries on April 26, Our Principles PAC, the most vocal anti-Trump super PAC, has spent more than $2 million on ads in Indiana alone. "Donald Trump loses badly to Hillary Clinton in nearly every poll," the ad says. The group also sent out a memo after last Tuesday's primaries with the plan going forward, saying, "On to Indiana."
Cruz is, of course, correct that the race won't literally end if he loses Indiana to Trump. Even were Trump to win the lion's share of delegates there, he'd still need approximately 200 delegates in order to clinch the nomination--which would be a greater possibility with Indiana's delegates than without it, but which isn't dependent just on Indiana alone.
According to CBS News' latest count, Trump has 993 delegates--which is more than 80 percent of the delegates he needs to hit 1,237. He needs 244 more delegates out of the remaining 502 to hit the magic number, or slightly less than 50 percent.
Even though Cruz's team has been diligent about getting supporters elected to delegate slots across the country, none of that matters if Trump reaches 1,237 and the vote never goes beyond the first ballot in Cleveland. With Indiana's delegates, the path for Trump to 1,237 becomes considerably easier.
Trump, for his part, insisted Sunday that Indiana is in fact a decisive primary: if he wins there, he said, "it's over."
Paul Manafort, Trump's convention manager, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday morning that Trump's team was planning meetings for with Republican party officials for "after the Indiana primary, when we believe everybody in the country will recognize that Donald Trump will be the nominee of the party." (He added that it will definitely be sewn up after California on June 7).