Ted Cruz made it clear Sunday that he's banking on Indiana to deliver him a big win, telling supporters it's his "battleground state" — even though the bigger Pennsylvania primary comes first.
Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, insisted at an appearance in Terre Haute that the Republican campaign has come down to him and Donald Trump — even though Ohio Gov. John Kasich's campaign said last week that it has already locked down the support of a majority of Indiana's 57 delegates to the Republican National Convention.
"There are two people and only two people that have any plausible path whatsoever to winning the Republican nomination — me and Donald Trump," Cruz said.
When a man in the crowd yelled out, "John Kasich!" Cruz responded, "As I said, 'plausible path.'"
Max Ketcham III, a student at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, told NBC News that likes Kasich because of his resonance with "Hoosier hospitality." Others in the state have compared Kasich to Mitch Daniels, an admired former governor.
Indiana's primary isn't until May 3 — a week after the primary Tuesday in Pennsylvania, where Trump has a strong lead in the polls.
But Cruz has gone all in on Indiana, where at least one recent poll has him within single digits of Trump. Cruz is making an 11-day barnstorming tour of the state, and the campaign has budgeted what officials called a "significant" amount of money.
The strategy mirrors the operation the Cruz campaign set up in Wisconsin, where Cruz ultimately won big on April 5. The campaign has even established "Camp Cruz," where volunteers can live for free just outside of Indianapolis.
Gene Griffin, a longtime Terre Haute resident who supports Cruz, acknowledged that Trump is favored in the 8th Congressional District, saying: "You have a lot of folks who he's speaking to who are sick and tired of jabs. I don't think we have enough research and inventory to make an intelligent decision. So we're going to vote what feels and sounds good."
Karen Wilson, who said she's likely to vote for Trump, called Terre Haute a "Reagan Democrat" town — home to many union workers but also predominantly anti-abortion. The city has been lost lots of union jobs.
Cruz made an explicit appeal Sunday to Reagan Democrats, telling supporters that Ronald Reagan "understood that when you cut taxes and you lift the burden on small businesses, then you see millions and millions of new jobs."
"I intend to follow the path blazed by Ronald Reagan and JFK and do the exact same thing," he said.
Cruz got some good news Sunday from Maine, where 19 of the 20 delegates he's backing were selected to attend the national convention in July.
Cruz won Maine's caucuses in March, securing 12 delegates to nine for Trump and two for Kasich. Those delegates are bound to reflect the caucus vote at the convention — but only on the first ballot. Sunday's allocation means that if the convention goes to multiple ballots, at least 19 of the 23 state's delegates will be Cruz supporters.