Donald Trump’s romp through the Northeast corridor last week shattered all expectations. It also positions Indiana’s contest on Tuesday as a desperate last stand for Ted Cruz and the #NeverTrump movement.
Something has shifted. On April 19, Trump carried the New York counties bordering Pennsylvania with an average of 57 percent, in a state in which he was to some extent a favorite son. A week later, he carried the Pennsylvania counties bordering New York with an average of 63 percent. In fact, his smallest margin of victory last Tuesday was 30 percent, in Connecticut. That wasn’t supposed to happen, and it strongly suggests Trump could steamroll his way through the final 10 contests.
Indiana, which bills itself as the Crossroads of America, has long looked like a huge fork in the road to the GOP nomination. Its 57 delegates make it the largest prize remaining besides California, and its high-stakes delegate allocation rules — winner-take-all statewide and by congressional district — assure the winner will claim a commanding majority. Indiana’s stand-alone status on May 3 also means its results will set the tone for the final month.
In many respects, Indiana should be a terrific state for the Cruz/Carly Fiorina pre-ticket. Indiana has the highest share of evangelical Protestants of any state yet to vote — 31 percent — which is 9 percentage points higher than in Wisconsin, the site of Cruz’s last triumph. In the 2012 GOP primary, the state’s GOP voters toppled Sen. Richard Lugar, a 36-year moderate fixture, in favor of Cruz’s fellow tea party purist Richard Mourdock. (Though Mourdock lost the general election to a Democrat, Joe Donnelly.) And like Wisconsin, Indiana has a robust population of well-educated, high-income conservatives — types that have favored Cruz — particularly in the northern Indianapolis suburbs.
However, here’s why Indiana could be an even better Trump state: It boasts the highest share of manufacturing jobs in the country. From steel mills on the shores of Lake Michigan to the medical device hub of Warsaw, to Elkhart, the “RV capital of the world,” Indiana’s blue-collar workforce — and its blue-collar retirees — are machine-made for Trump.
Since February, Trump has focused on the closing of an Indianapolis factory as the centerpiece of his protectionist message: specifically, a plant owned by the Carrier Corp., which will move its production of heating and ventilation equipment to Mexico, costing 1,400 jobs over the next three years. Outsourcing helped fuel anger towards Republicans and was a reason for Barack Obama’s upset win in Indiana in the 2008 general election. But according to the 2016 Almanac of American Politics, “economic dislocation has dropped median income in the state by 12 percent and pushed up poverty by 29 percent since 2007.” The anger is even deeper now and could bolster Trump this time.
There’s another important difference between Wisconsin and Indiana: Wisconsin’s conservative talk-radio hosts and most prominent elected Republicans railed against Trump and rallied around Cruz, but Indiana’s chatter has been decidedly mixed.
No prominent conservative radio hosts have bashed Trump like Milwaukee host Charlie Sykes and other Wisconsinites did. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker led a late, organized effort for Cruz in the final week before April 5, but Indiana Gov. Mike Pence took until Friday to issue a half-hearted Cruz endorsement. While Trump has paraded around Indiana with legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight, the most help Cruz has received has come in the form of a $1.5 million anti-Trump ad buy from the Club for Growth, whose president and former president are two former Indiana GOP congressmen, David McIntosh and Chris Chocola.
Then there’s the polling: of the seven polls released this month, most have shown Trump with modest leads ranging from 2 to 9 percentage points. But the newest survey, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll, showed Trump leading Cruz by a much wider 49 percent to 34 percent, with Kasich at 13 percent. For weeks, a tactical consolidation of Kasich voters behind Cruz has seemed like a prerequisite for an Indiana Cruz victory. But Kasich’s hesitation has cast doubt on that scenario, and if the latest poll is accurate, not even a shift of every Kasich supporter into Cruz’s column would prevent a Trump win.
How the delegates could break down
Indiana will award 30 delegates to the statewide winner and three to the winner of each of its nine congressional districts. Even if Cruz somehow pulls off a win, there’s a good chance Trump could win a good share of delegates by carrying more rural, blue-collar congressional districts. But the reverse is probably not true for Cruz.
If there’s one district Trump should win by a mile, it’s the 1st District in northwest Indiana, which is adjacent to Chicago and the soul of Indiana’s steel industry. The district is heavily blue-collar, Democratic, older and racially polarized, all factors that have usually pointed to wide Trump margins. Trump should also do very well in southern Indiana’s 8th and 9th districts, home to former “Butternut Democrats” — white, socially conservative working-class voters who used to vote Democratic but have swung hard to the GOP. (“Butternut” was Civil War-era slang for a Confederate soldier; the southern section of Indiana long had sympathies with the rebel cause.)
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Meanwhile, Cruz is likely to fare best in the 5th District, situated in the northern Indianapolis suburbs and by far the highest-income district in the state. About 43 percent of white 5th District residents 25 and over hold college degrees — 19 percentage points higher than any other district in the state. In particular, Cruz will need booming Hamilton County — home to many wealthy voters employed in the life-sciences sector — to play a role similar to the one Waukesha County played for him in Wisconsin.
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The problem for Cruz is that in a close race, his support could be inefficiently concentrated in one district. The 5th District casts more GOP votes than any other in Indiana; in fact, in 2012 it cast more than twice as many votes for Mitt Romney as its neighbor to the south, the 7th District. Yet like all others, it will award just three delegates. To halt Trump, Cruz probably needs to win at least five of nine districts, or 45 delegates. That looks unlikely today.
Bonus trivia: Indiana is not just the birthplace of Orville Redenbacher popcorn, Alka-Seltzer tablets, Clabber Girl baking powder and 9,000-seat high school basketball arenas; it’s also home to the only county that has voted with the winner in every single presidential election since 1956, Vigo County (Terre Haute).