- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2016

As his campaign gained steam Sunday, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump declared Tuesday’s primary in Indiana a must-win that would make his march to the nomination virtually unstoppable.

The billionaire businessman opened a wide lead in the polls, brushed aside attacks from rival Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and told Indiana voters that they have the power to deliver the nomination.

“Indiana is so important, and we have to win it,” Mr. Trump told a rally in Terre Haute. “If we win Indiana, it’s over.”

But while Mr. Cruz called the contest Tuesday “incredibly important,” he downplayed the perception that the Hoosier State would make or break his campaign and vowed to fight on to the delegate-rich California primary on the last day of the race next month.

“California is the state that’s going to decide this whole thing,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Mr. Cruz appeared Sunday on every major TV and cable political talk show.

He insisted that, regardless of the outcome in Indiana with its 57 delegates up for grabs, the race was destined to end with a contested Republican National Convention in July, when he could potentially win the nomination after multiple ballots.

“No one is getting to 1,237,” Mr. Cruz said, referring to the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination before the Cleveland convention. “I’m going to have a ton of delegates at that convention, and Donald Trump is going to have a ton of delegates. And it’s going to be a battle to see who can earn a majority.”

Scrambling to keep his run alive, Mr. Cruz last week took the unusual step of announcing a running mate months before the convention. He tapped former Hewlett-Packard CEO and GOP presidential contender Carly Fiorina, who, among other assets, has strong ties to California.

Mr. Trump is the only candidate in the race who can secure 1,237 delegates before the Cleveland convention. Mr. Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are mathematically eliminated form that race and could win the nomination only after multiple ballots at a contested convention.

“The reason Donald is so frantic to say the race is over and trying to get all of his media acolytes to say the race is over is because Donald knows he cannot earn the majority of the delegates that were elected by the people,” said Mr. Cruz. “If you can’t win a majority, it means you can’t unite the party and win.”

Mr. Trump jumped to a 15-point lead in Indiana over Mr. Cruz, 49 percent to 34 percent, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Sunday.

Mr. Kasich, who stopped campaigning in Indiana as part of an agreement to give Mr. Cruz a one-on-one contest against the front-runner, captured 13 percent support in the poll. But Mr. Trump’s support appeared to increase in the wake of the Cruz-Kasich deal.

Other recent polls have depicted a closer race, including a Clout Research survey that gave Mr. Trump a thin 2-point lead over Mr. Cruz.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cruz pick up the lion’s share of delegates at GOP state conventions over the weekend in Arizona and Virginia despite losing handily to Mr. Trump at the ballot box in both states.

The Cruz campaign has put together a top-notch operation for the state conventions to guarantee he has an army of supporters on the convention floor this summer.

“Trump got cheated,” Jeff DeWit, chairman of the Trump campaign in Arizona, said Saturday at the state convention. “Somebody messed with the system.”

Having delegates ready to switch their vote is key to Mr. Cruz’s plan to win the nomination at a brokered convention. But first he must block the real estate mogul from securing the 1,237 delegates needed to lock up the nomination on the first ballot.

The outcome in Indiana will be key, as Mr. Trump stands to break the 1,000 delegate threshold. Heading into Tuesday’s vote, Mr. Trump leads the delegate hunt with 996, followed by Mr. Cruz with 565 and Mr. Kasich with 153, according to a tally by The Associated Press.

But those numbers reflect how delegates must vote on the first ballot, not who they actually support, and in that lies the logic of Mr. Cruz’s strategy.

At the Arizona state GOP convention, Cruz supporters won all but two of the 28 at-large delegates and about half of the 27 congressional district delegates. All the state’s 58 delegates — the other three are the state’s Republican National Committee members — are bound to vote for Mr. Trump on the first ballot, but they can vote for whomever they want after that.

Only about a dozen of Mr. Trump’s supporters won delegate slots at the state convention in Mesa, Arizona.

At the state GOP convention in Virginia, Cruz supporters won 10 of the 13 at-large delegates. Mr. Trump won three.

Virginia’s delegates also are bound for the first ballot, with 17 having to vote for Mr. Trump, eight for Mr. Cruz and five for Mr. Kasich. Another 16 delegates are bound to Sen. Marco Rubio, who has dropped out of the race.

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