A triumphant Donald Trump returned Wednesday to Indiana where he hopes to deal a potentially fatal blow to Ted Cruz in the state’s critical standalone primary next week.
Bolstered by bigger-than-expected wins in five Northeastern primaries Tuesday night, he sought to cement his front-runner status and establish himself as the Republican Party’s inevitable nominee with a pair of nationally televised events in Indianapolis.
“If we win Indiana, it’s over!” Trump declared during a rally at the Indiana State Fairgrounds that drew about 5,000 people.
He was joined on the campaign trail by his son, Donald Trump Jr., and Indiana University coaching legend Bobby Knight, who told the audience at a Fox News Town Hall event at Hilbert Circle Theatre that he and Trump had something in common.
“If we’re involved with something where we want to win, and particularly something that’s necessary, if there is something out there where we need to win, we’re going to try to beat your ass every time,” Knight said to a cheering crowd of Trump supporters, many of whom had waited nearly two hours in a line that winded around several blocks near Monument Circle before getting into the event.
In his latest effort to shake up the race and blunt Trump’s momentum, Cruz took the highly unusual step Wednesday of naming former GOP presidential contender Carly Fiorina as his running mate. It is the first time in 40 years that a presidential candidate has named a vice presidential pick prior to securing the nomination.
The Texas senator, Cruz, is hoping Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO, will give him an additional edge with Hoosier voters.
He is facing a must-win situation in Indiana. The state’s 57 delegates represent his best hope for preventing Trump from getting the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination outright and avoid a contested national convention this summer in Cleveland.
“Where we are right now, nobody is getting to 1,237 delegates,” Cruz said during the rally. “I’m not getting to 1,237 delegates, and Donald J. Trump is not getting to 1,237 delegates. And the Hoosier state is going to have a powerful voice in making that clear.”
The Fiorina announcement was Cruz’s second major surprise announcement since turning his focus to Indiana last week.
He and the race’s third candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, announced an unprecedented noncompete agreement on Sunday that essentially turned Indiana into a two-man race. Under the deal, Cruz agreed not to campaign in two Western states, while Kasich agreed to abandon Indiana. The two men are hoping the arrangement will help stop Trump by consolidating opposition to the front-runner behind a single candidate.