Why you should care

Because the Hoosier State was made for underdogs.

Sure, Ted Cruz’s stirrups have been shaken lately, humbled in places like Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York. But rather than licking his wounds, he’s staging a final stand of sorts as he firmly gazes toward the farm-and-car country of Indiana.

So far, internal polls reportedly show the Senate’s rogue cowboy neck-in-neck with his Manhattan rival, Donald Trump. And while he’s brokered a peace deal here with his other opponent, John Kasich, who agreed to pull out and cede Indiana to Cruz in order to hurt the Donald, certain supporters may come to the rescue — anti-Trump forces like the Club for Growth, for one, are committing millions in ad dollars. What are some of the other tactics Cruz might use to roadblock Trump on what’s become his seemingly inevitable march to the GOP nomination? Glad you asked.

A Polling Advantage?

The Texan’s campaign bus seems to have racked up more rust than miles of late, ever since Cruz left the daily campaigning of states like Iowa and New Hampshire for less highway-heavy stays in places like New York and Pennsylvania. Cruz has “basically moved” to Indiana, notes state politico Abdul-Hakim Shabazz. More important, around a third of Indiana’s 92 counties have “voting centers,” central hubs where all the voters in a county can vote, regardless of neighborhood. That creates somewhat of an advantage for better-organized candidates like Cruz, who can organize shuttles of volunteers to pick up would-be voters and drop them off at the same location — a feat not so simple in other states.

Trump, despite plans from campaign strategist Paul Manafort to “balloon his in-state operation” to 40 staffers, appears to have had virtually no “ground game” so far, Shabazz says. Perhaps it’s fitting then that the pastor’s son stands to benefit most from a souls-to-the-polls strategy. Don’t be surprised if you see buses full of “Crusading Cruzers” coming to a Hoosier neighborhood near you.

Courting the Airwaves

Much has been made of Cruz’s win in nearby Wisconsin, driven, in part, by a significant #NeverTrump contingent of radio hosts who backed his upset bid. In Indiana, too, there are a few power brokers of political talk radio. Shabazz — an attorney by trade, blogger at IndyPolitics.org and radio show host in Indianapolis — is among them. So is his colleague Tony Katz, as well as WOWO radio’s Pat Miller, who greets afternoon traffickers in Fort Wayne, the state’s second-largest city, and who tells OZY that he’s backed Cruz, even emceeing a campaign event this week. “They have a certain amount of influence here,” says Andy Downs, a political scientist at Indiana University—Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Take the Obama Playbook — and Flip It

The last time Indiana mattered in a presidential race, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were duking it out for the Democratic nomination in 2008. But these are different times, and this race “seems a lot more dark, a lot more negative,” Shabazz says. Which is why, for Cruz, he might do better channeling his inner Emperor Palpatine (“Let the hate flow through you”) than the light. After all, faith in politicians, the party system and the media are all at historic lows — and conservatives are among the most dour. More than half of Republicans said the United States “stood above all other countries” in 2011, but that number fell to 37 percent in 2014, the steepest drop of any demographic group, according to Gallup polls.

The point: Being too optimistic can seem disingenuous, à la Marco Rubio. And with more than a few rank-and-file conservatives thinking that Cruz comes across as “too slick,” it wouldn’t hurt to throw some self-righteous shade at the Donald. Which might explain the scare tactics filling donors’ inboxes: “Death threats,” one recent Cruz fundraising email was titled. Another followed, just a few hours later, promising to start a hotline to “keep delegates safe” from mean old Trumpeters. Its subject line? “SERIOUS death threats.”

Remember Your Enemy’s Enemy

Another quirk of elections in Indiana: It’s a closed affair that acts like an open one. How so? Well, by law, only Republicans are supposed to vote in the GOP primary, which would favor Cruz, who does better with die-hard party folks. But, practically speaking, the state has no way to enforce those rules, says Downs, so independents or so-called Reagan Democrats could rally behind Trump.

Yet here too Cruz could build an advantage. First, his alliance with Kasich means moderates and liberals could rally around Cruz as a middle-finger vote against Trump. The key? Taking his plea for strategic voting to where the people are — cities and suburbs, where at least 40 percent of all Indiana voters are within the reach of major media markets, including Chicago to the northwest, Indianapolis in the center and, to a lesser extent, Louisville and Cincinnati to the southeast. To win Indiana, it might just be time to turn out “Big City” Ted.

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The route to the White House: news, stories and analysis from on and off the presidential campaign trail.