After five primaries Tuesday, attention will quickly move to Indiana and what’s viewed as the last best opportunity by Trump’s opponents to slow his momentum.
Donald Trump is poised to sweep five Northeast primaries Tuesday as the Republican presidential campaign enters a critical week that ends with Indiana’s primary, a stretch that may determine his prospects of winning the nomination.
Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will compete as well in the contests in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island in what’s become known as the “Acela primary” because of the Amtrak route through the region. The former secretary of state is expected to widen her already formidable lead.
Trump and Clinton appear increasingly likely to be headed to a general-election face-off. Clinton is better positioned to get there, while Trump’s path could become clearer if he has a strong showing Tuesday and a week later in Indiana’s May 3 primary.
Trump called on his two rivals, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich, to quit the race during a Monday evening rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. “They ought to quit, so we can all get together, we can all unify and we can all go against crooked Hillary Clinton and beat her,” he said.
Voting in the five states casting ballots Tuesday ends at 8 p.m. and the Republican front-runner has announced plans to rally with his supporters at Trump Tower in Manhattan, as he did a week ago after his massive win in New York’s primary. The former secretary of state plans an evening rally in Philadelphia, where her party will host its national convention in late July.
Whatever Tuesday’s outcome, attention has already shifted to the Hoosier State. Trump is expected to campaign there Wednesday with legendary former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight, after delivering a foreign policy address in Washington.
Indiana is viewed as the last best opportunity by Trump’s opponents to slow his momentum. It’s also where his two remaining rivals have agreed to first implement a long-shot plan they hope will help keep him from winning the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination.
In a deal announced late Sunday, Cruz and Kasich agreed to divvy up some of the upcoming primary states as part of an effort to try to stop dividing the anti-Trump vote.
The agreement calls for Cruz to focus on Indiana, while Kasich will divert his resources elsewhere. In exchange, Cruz won’t compete in Oregon and New Mexico, which hold their primaries on May 17 and June 7. Trump has labeled the plan “collusion.”
The deal, which could be expanded later, carries with it considerable risk. If Trump still manages to win Indiana, it could make him look close to unstoppable for the remaining primaries in May and early June.
Kasich muddled the deal’s message a bit on Monday when he seemed more than reluctant when asked at a campaign stop in Philadelphia what Indiana voters should do next week.
“I’ve never told them not to vote for me,” he said. “They ought to vote for me.”
Indiana’s strong social-conservative streak makes it friendlier territory for Cruz than the more moderate Kasich. The state has 57 delegates, with the statewide winner getting 30 and each of nine congressional districts awarding three.
Polling in Indiana has been minimal so far and none has yet captured any movement following Sunday night’s announcement of the Cruz-Kasich pact. A RealClearPolitics average of recent polls showed Trump with a roughly 6-point advantage over Cruz, with Kasich recording about 19 percent.
Cruz, who is expected to spend most of the next week in Indiana, repeatedly hammered at Trump during a campaign stop in the state Monday evening. He also tried to appeal to the local crowd, quoting lines from the movie Hoosiers about the state’s high-school basketball tradition.
“Donald Trump has been supporting liberal Democrats for 40 years,” Cruz said, drawing anti-Trump boos. “I have no experience with that.”
Full Speed Ahead
Trump packed three events into his Monday schedule, a signal of how badly he wants to dominate in the five states and keep his rivals from gaining any campaign oxygen. Tuesday’s primaries offer a total of 172 delegates on the Republican side, with 462 at stake for the Democrats.
Pennsylvania is potentially the biggest prize of the night for both parties. On the Republican side, however, the outcome in the commonwealth will be more symbolic than delegate-binding. While the statewide winner will get 17 delegates, the remaining 54 can vote for any candidate they like on the first ballot at the party’s July nominating convention in Cleveland.
In a Fox News interview Tuesday, Trump trashed the Cruz-Kasich deal.
“I think it’s collusion. I think it’s pathetic. It makes them both look weak,” Trump said. “It is a rigged system. In certain ways it’s corrupt and people are understanding it.”
At an earlier event Monday in Pennsylvania, the billionaire businessman compared his two rivals to “short-sellers” in the stock market, saying the case for their campaigns is based on betting against his ability to win the delegates needed.
“I’ve never liked short-sellers,” he said. “They buy stocks going against the economy. They’re never nice people.”
Prior to Tuesday’s voting, Trump led the Republican race with 845 delegates, according to an Associated Press tally. He was followed by Cruz at 559 and Kasich at 148. Clinton had 1,944 of the 2,383 delegates and super delegates needed to win, compared to 1,192 for the Vermont senator.
Clinton barely mentioned Sanders on the campaign trail Monday, instead focusing most of her criticisms on Trump and Cruz. In an evening town-hall interview with MSNBC, she implied she’d put in place a half-woman Cabinet if elected president. “I am going to have a Cabinet that looks like America and 50 percent of America is women,” she said.
Given her delegate lead, Clinton suggested the end of the campaign trail is near for Sanders. “What he and his supporters are now saying just doesn’t add up,” she said. “We are going to work together, but I am ahead and let’s start from that premise when we talk about what happens next.”
During an MSNBC interview Tuesday, Sanders said he’d consider a female running mate and maintained that he still had a chance at the nomination.
“I do not accept that there is no path for us,” he said.
In a town-hall interview on the network Monday, he suggested he may not be able to convince his backers to support Clinton if she’s the nominee and said it’s up to her, not him, to do that work. “We are not a movement where I can snap my fingers,” he said.