Voters in the Midwestern U.S. state of Indiana are headed to the polls Tuesday in a crucial Republican presidential primary, where front-runner Donald Trump faces a showdown with his closest rival, Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
A Trump victory in Indiana would likely put the billionaire real estate mogul on a glide path to clinching the Republican Party’s presidential nomination before its July national convention in Cleveland.
"If we win Indiana, it's over," Trump told voters in the politically conservative Midwestern state, where vast reaches of farmland intersect with industrial centers.
Cruz, a conservative firebrand in the halls of Congress in Washington, has campaigned for a week in Indiana, urging voters to support him in an effort to stop Trump from claiming a first-ballot nomination victory at the national convention.
But Cruz has acknowledged that he needs to halt Trump's march to the nomination, saying, "We're at the edge of a cliff and staring down."
Indiana = must win
Trump has won the last six state nominating contests over Cruz and another Republican contender, Ohio Governor John Kasich. Trump cannot clinch the nomination with an Indiana win, but numerous U.S. political analysts say a victory would hand him a psychological edge among voters in the remaining nine state party nominating contests that run through early June.
All but one pre-election survey in Indiana shows Trump leading Cruz, some by large margins, others less so.
Trump, a one-time television reality show host who has never held elective office, seemed confident enough of an Indiana victory that he focused attacks at his closing rally on the likely Democratic presidential nominee, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They would face each other in November's national election if both eventually secure their parties' presidential nominations.
Trump told supporters he could defeat her in states Republicans do not normally win, even as early election surveys suggest otherwise. He disparaged Clinton's performance as the country's top diplomat from 2009 to 2013, saying she was asleep during part of a 2012 terrorist attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans.
Cruz staged a campaign blitz through several Indiana cities in the final hours before the primary. During an encounter with reporters in northern Indiana, he lumped Trump and Clinton together as he made a last-minute appeal for Republican support.
“Do you want to turn on the television and see a president, Republican or Democrat, who embarrasses you?” he asked.
Cruz needs Indiana victory
Cruz is desperate for a win in Indiana that would make it more difficult for Trump to secure the necessary 1,237 delegate majority before the convention, perhaps setting up a multi-ballot battle for the nomination in Cleveland. Trump's support is keyed to a first ballot convention victory, with many delegates who are required to vote for him on the first ballot because of the outcome of the nominating contests in their states saying they would support Cruz on subsequent ballots.
“I’m not getting to 1,237 delegates and Donald J. Trump is not getting to 1,237 delegates. And the Hoosier (Indiana) state is going to have a powerful voice in making that clear,” Cruz told supporters in Indianapolis. He was accompanied by his vice presidential running mate, former technology executive Carly Fiorina, who dropped out of the Republican presidential race after winning little support from the party faithful.
Cruz picked Fiorina with the hope of energizing conservative voters before the Indiana vote and she became a featured speaker during his campaign events. “There is a lot at stake and, in fact, this is a fight. This is a fight for the soul of our party and the future of our nation,” she told cheering supporters at one rally.
Pre-election polls show Clinton locked in a tight Democratic contest in Indiana with her lone challenger, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. But Clinton remains far ahead of him in winning delegates to the party's July national nominating convention in Philadelphia.
Clinton, however, has yet to clinch the party nomination as she seeks to become the country's first female president.
The winner of the November election will replace President Barack Obama as he leaves office in January after eight years in the White House.