The silence in the parking lot of the Hamilton County fairgrounds is pierced only by a few songbirds, the ringing echo of a halyard slapping against a flagpole, and the gravel crunching beneath the footsteps of John Kasich’s frustrated supporters.
A stream of voters arrived at the suburban Indianapolis fairgrounds on Tuesday to see the Republican presidential candidate, unaware the event had been canceled. They hadn’t heard that Kasich scotched the appearance and ceded the state to Ted Cruz, calculating that the Texas senator had the best chance here of slowing down Donald Trump and saving his resources for other states.
Much like the men and women at the fairgrounds, the voters of Indiana don’t seem to be on board with the imperatives of the political moment. The race here is shaping up to be a last stand not just for Cruz, but also for the “stop Trump” movement, an unlikely confederation of activists and party donors. But, from members of the donor class in Indianapolis unwilling to back Cruz to blue-collar voters in Elkhart outraged by the collaboration, the movement is not coalescing, and is even backfiring.
“People who were supporting Kasich have been coming into the office to pick up Trump signs,” said Laura Campbell, Republican chairwoman of Hamilton County, whose residents earn more money than anyone else in the state. “People are not happy here with that alliance.”
Cruz, trailing in the polls, has a week to change minds before Indiana’s primary on May 3. He’s been campaigning in the state for several days, and on Wednesday announced Carly Fiorina, the former CEO for Hewlett Packard, as his running mate. The move was aimed at injecting some energy and interest in the race at a crucial moment. It may also help Cruz later in California, where Fiorina won the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in 2010. She lost to Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, in the general election.
Even though Kasich is a popular two-term governor in neighboring Ohio, it’s Cruz who has won most Midwestern states. Those victories included a come-from-behind win in Wisconsin earlier this month that, at least temporarily, boosted his campaign. But that victory serves as the high-water mark for Cruz, who has trailed Trump since the second contest of the nomination race in February.
Cruz ignored questions during a campaign stop in Indianapolis on Wednesday about whether Indiana is a must-win for him. But the stakes couldn’t be higher. Trump has scored some of the biggest victories of the campaign during the past two weeks, while his standing in national polls has improved. A victory in Indiana could bolster Cruz as he heads towards California's primary June 7, where there are enough delegates at stake to ensure the party’s first contested convention in 40 years.
“Indiana now has the chance to speak, not only for Hoosiers across the state, but for the people across this country,” Cruz told reporters outside Sisters’ Pancake House. “Indiana has a chance to make a decision that is going to impact the Republican Party, that is going to impact the country.”
In northern Indiana, home to many of the working-class, white voters who have turned out in droves for Trump, Thomas Adkison visited the New York businessman’s campaign headquarters in Fort Wayne. The retired semi driver wanted a “Veterans For Trump” sign to put in the window of his car, and Trump yard signs.
“You understand how mad I am when I see all these factories closing?” Adkison asked in an interview outside the Trump office. “I want an outsider. I don’t want these here establishment people that are in there.''
Trump mentions—every chance he can—the loss of manufacturing jobs in Indiana, especially United Technologies Electronic Controls Inc., and its subsidiary Carrier Corp., moving heating and air conditioning assembly operations to Mexico. The move eliminated 2,100 jobs in Indianapolis and Huntington.
The loss of manufacturing jobs in Indiana's economy mirrors the nation's, and makes Trump's tough talk about rewriting trade deals and promise to “make America great again” appealing, said Ball State economist Michael Hicks.
While the state added 1.4 million net jobs between 1969 and 2014, the percentage in manufacturing declined to 14 percent from 33 percent, he said. Manufacturing output has actually risen to record levels because of increased productivity, even as there are fewer workers required who are paid less than their fathers and grandfathers, Hicks said.
Northern Indiana, with a mix of Democrats backed by labor unions, Republicans, and self-described independents such as Adkison, shows that trend. While unemployment in Elkhart has fallen from almost 20 percent during the recession to less than 5 percent, there are now many fewer jobs that pay what the Studebaker factory in nearby South Bend and other old-line manufacturing jobs did, Hicks said. Older, middle-class Hoosiers with a high school diploma who once were able to raise a family, send kids to college and get a new car every three or four years now find themselves working in jobs paying $15 an hour or replaced entirely by younger, less-costly workers, Hicks said.
“Donald Trump's likely to do very well here simply because the feeling about the economy matches his narrative, even though the data do not,” Hicks said.
Trump's campaign said that the deal between Kasich and Cruz, with its whiff of insider politics, will only help their cause. “Don't pass the smell test,” Rex Early, a former Indiana Republican Party chairman and Trump's Indiana chairman, said in a telephone interview.
“This backroom double-dealing thing that they put on now, that is going to hurt Cruz,” Early said. “Hoosiers like fair.”
Even some Cruz supporters in Indiana aren't happy about the arrangement. Tim Douglass, 30, a social worker from South Bend, said he initially supported Trump because he liked the idea of an outsider. He switched to Cruz when the billionaire failed to provide specifics, but Douglass doesn't agree with the effort to block Trump.
“I don’t like the teaming up,” Douglass said while standing in line on Tuesday for a $1 pretzel at the opening of a Ben's Soft Pretzels store downtown. “You should play to win, not play to stop someone else.”
Craig Dunn, the Indiana Republican Party's 4th District chairman and a delegate who is supporting Kasich, termed the race a “jump ball” between Cruz's appeal to religious and social conservatives and Trump's economic and populist appeal. He called the pact between Kasich and Cruz a “political mistake” that was unnecessary.
“I just don't know if there'll be enough Kasich people that will say they're going to participate in this strategy,” Dunn said. “And probably the ones who do will be somewhat cancelled out by others that say, ‘Gee whiz, Indiana's not important enough for him to do it, so I'm going to do Trump.’”
As rain drizzled Tuesday over Indianapolis, residents competed on a temporary obstacle course that had been set up for the popular TV show American Ninja Warrior. Under green and purple stage lights, men and woman alike repeatedly fell from a swinging rope and splashed into a pool of water. Others tumbled from a rolling log, unable to keep their balance, as the crowd groaned after every collapse.
Inside a private club next to the set, Kasich spoke about his own dismay.
Some of them are surely disappointed—he was a little disappointed too, Kasich told donors about his pact with Cruz, according to two sources inside the meeting. After all, he lives in Ohio. He's their neighbor, he told them.
The Ohio governor canceled his rally earlier in the day, but kept his fundraiser at the Columbia Club downtown. Kasich also spoke there with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican who has met with all three of the finalists for his party’s nomination.
When this proposition came along, Kasich told donors about the deal with Cruz, his team recommended that he do this. There’s a chance it might work, he said. Kasich's campaign declined to comment about what was said at the meeting.
It was hardly a ringing endorsement. And his supporters left the meeting less than enthusiastic about Cruz; in interviews with 10 donors who attended the meeting, just one planned to switch his or her vote to Cruz.
“It’s what has to be done to stop Trump, who is completely reckless and unfit for public office,” said David Carr, a labor attorney and former Zionsville councilman. “Indiana could be the turning point.”
If the Cruz-Kasich plan could be pulled off anywhere in Indiana, it’s the urban center and so-called “doughnut counties” around Indianapolis. There are more moderate Republicans in that part of the state, and the idea of strategic voting shouldn’t be so foreign in the heart of state government and politics.
And like their counterparts in Milwaukee who helped deliver Cruz a resounding victory in Wisconsin, many Republican voters in the Indianapolis area are on their second and third choice for president.
But unlike their neighbors just north on the shores of Lake Michigan, there is little help so far for Cruz in Indiana. While Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker enthusiastically endorsed the Texas senator, Pence has remained neutral, saying only that he’ll back the party’s eventual nominee. Former Governor Mitch Daniels has eschewed the type of social policies that Cruz backs.
“I cannot bring myself to vote for either Ted Cruz or Donald Trump—I just can’t do it,” said John Mutz, a former Indiana lieutenant governor. “So, even though I understand the strategy, I’m going to vote for John Kasich.”