If you don’t know by now why Indiana is important, you must have missed this post and a good 8,000 similar explainers elsewhere in political media. Long story short, Indiana’s one of the few states left on the map where either Cruz or Trump might plausibly do well. With 57 delegates at stake, a win or loss for Trump there could be the difference between him reaching 1,237 delegates on the first ballot and falling a few dozen short. It’s essentially a must-win for Cruz to force a contested convention.
But he’s not winning, at least according to three private polls obtained by Politico. The reason we’re stuck with private polls of the state instead of the usual fare is partly because Indiana bans automated polling, which locks out a bunch of smaller pollsters, and partly because the major pollsters are consumed right now with the mid-Atlantic states that vote next week. Which is foolish of them: The mid-Atlantic states will all go heavily Trump, with the only mystery as to his margins. It’s Indiana that has the potential to decide whether he’s the nominee. And if you believe the private polls, he’s in play:
One survey, completed on April 12, had Ted Cruz and Donald Trump in a statistical tie: 32 percent to 32 percent, with John Kasich, governor of neighboring Ohio, a distant third, with 14 percent.
A second survey also had Trump and Cruz tied, but that was a change from three weeks earlier, when Cruz had led outside the margin of error.
A third survey, from last week, had Trump ahead of Cruz, outside the margin of error…
The Club for Growth Action Fund announced a $1.5 million ad buy in the state on Thursday. “There is now no state more important than Indiana for electing Cruz and keeping Trump from reaching 1,237,” said Club president David McIntosh.
John McCormack makes a fair point which Cruzers will appreciate. Add up the totals in the first poll cited above and you’re left with 22 percent undecided. Trump tends not to do well with late deciders in closely contested states, probably for the simple reason that he’s larger than life and therefore everyone’s already made up their minds about him. If you had to guess which way that 22 percent will break, you’d guess mainly for Cruz, with a fair chance that some of Kasich’s 14 percent will desert him as well to vote strategically for Cruz in order to ensure a convention. It may also be that the reason Cruz led in Indiana three weeks ago but has slipped into a tie now is because he was campaigning hard in nearby Wisconsin at the time and receiving lots of good press. In other words, he may have been enjoying a small bounce which was destined to fade. But maybe not — maybe Cruz has slipped because Trump’s landslide in New York has convinced Hoosiers, rightly or not, that Cruz is a lost cause. And if that’s true, the rules about Trump and late deciders may no longer apply. Maybe, with all the hype about Indiana as a possible waterloo for Cruz and all the annoying yet effective whining lately from Trump about a “rigged system,” undecideds will seize the opportunity to end the race on May 3rd (for all intents and purposes) and break for Trump instead.
Whatever the truth is, here’s something worth noting: When pollsters started targeting Wisconsin in late March, two weeks before the primary, Cruz was already leading in most surveys. Not by a lot, but he was ahead. If the private polls are right, he’s lost the one lead he already had in Indiana and is outside the margin of error in trailing in the other. That’s not what a Cruz fan wants to see, although the fact that he went on to a comfortable 13-point win in Wisconsin after the early polls showed a tight race is some cause for optimism. He may well win. But will he win across the state, in various districts, which is what he’ll need to do to pile up delegates? If not, if he and Trump end up splitting Indiana fairly evenly by district, Trump could still come away with a decent haul to help him get across the 1,237 line. For Cruz, there’s no margin for error anymore.
Go read this Philip Klein post from yesterday making a shrewd point about the dearth of public polling in Indiana. If these private polls are wrong and Cruz (or Trump) is actually comfortably ahead, wouldn’t knowing that have a profound effect on the media narrative right now? The media’s take on the race is that, having just crushed Cruz in New York and preparing to crush him again next week in the mid-Atlantic, Trump may be in the process of putting him away. The anti-Trump resistance is crumbling. Trump’s got the big Mo! But does he, or is he just winning the states he was expected to win, with Indiana poised to deliver him a heavy blow on May 3rd? If Hoosiers are sticking with Cruz then Trump really has no momentum at all and he’s still staring down the likelihood of finishing short of a majority after California. If, on the other hand, Hoosiers are breaking for Trump, then we’ve reached endgame in the primaries, which is as newsworthy as newsworthy gets. It’d be nice to know either way.
Exit question: What does Trump mean here by “when this is all over”? He means after his two terms as president, right?
— Hadas Gold (@Hadas_Gold) April 21, 2016