Looking ahead to Indiana

Donald Trump will almost certainly have a big day this coming Tuesday. He’s expected to win the vast majority of the nearly 120 delegates at stake in the Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland primaries.

That accomplishment would still leave Trump off pace in terms of getting to the magic number of 1,237 delegates via primaries, caucuses, and state conventions. However, it would create a sense of momentum, and perhaps even inevitability, as Trump heads into contests where very strong performances could secure him the nomination.

The first such contest will take place in Indiana on May 3. Ted Cruz is banking on a strong showing in the Hoosier State to halt Trump’s momentum and to deny him three dozen or more delegates (out of a possible 54 that are at stake). According to Tim Alberta of NRO:

Indiana has emerged as Cruz’s top priority. It awards 57 delegates, and Cruz’s brain trust believes a clean sweep there — or close to it — would erase Trump’s already-thin margin for error and effectively end his hopes of entering Cleveland with 1,237 delegates. Accordingly, they have been preparing to throw everything they have at the state, in an effort to reapply the formula that worked to such devastating effect in Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, the latest polls out of the Hoosier State suggest that Cruz is unlikely to sweep (or nearly sweep) in Indiana. A Fox News poll finds Trump leading Cruz by 41-33 (with John Kasich at 16 percent). A poll by an Indiana television station has Trump’s lead over Cruz at 37-31 (with Kasich at 22).

Cruz’s team hopes the Texas Senator will surge as the primary approaches like he did in Wisconsin. However, Wisconsin (along with neighboring Iowa) is something of an exception. When Trump has led in the polls, usually he has won.

Byron York points out that Wisconsin was a special case because both the state’s Republican establishment and its conservative talk radio shows strongly supported Cruz. In Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence hasn’t endorsed anyone (so far) and talk radio does not appear to be unified behind the Texas man.

Iowa can also be viewed as exceptional because of Trump’s decision to skip the Iowa debate. Iowa’s demanding caucus-goers didn’t appreciate the snub.

The upshot is that, although Cruz is close enough in the polls to catch Trump if things break his way, the kind of big victory he achieved in Wisconsin seems almost out of the question.

The good news is that Cruz doesn’t have to have that kind of victory, though it certainly would help him. In fact, Cruz doesn’t have to win in Indiana.

In March, a panel assembled by FiveThirtyEight projected that Trump would win 37 of Indiana’s 57 delegates. It also projected that Trump would fall 29 delegates short of the required 1,237.

More than a month later, Trump remains off pace. So a Trump victory in Indiana, if it is not decisive, is baked into a scenario in which Trump fails to win 1,237 delegates via primaries, caucuses, and state conventions.

The bad news is two-fold. First, Trump gets awfully close to 1,237 in that scenario. Second, Cruz is running way behind Trump in California, the other key contest that remains.

Thus, if there is such a thing as momentum in this primary season, Cruz would do well to get some in Indiana.