The unprecedented alliance between Ted Cruz and John Kasich is a longshot not only to succeed, but to last.
There were strong indications Monday, just hours after the two underdog Republican candidates claimed they wouldn’t campaign against one another in three states, that their effort was as shaky as their chances to win the nomination.
Kasich said he’d urge voters in Indiana to vote for him anyway, even though the Ohio governor had agreed not to challenge Cruz there.
And experts in the three states where the non-aggression pact was supposedly in place – New Mexico, Oregon and Indiana – raised serious questions about whether Kasich and Cruz voters would simply give up their candidates for the other guy.
Cruz and Kasich’s maneuver was viewed as near-desperation. Front-runner Donald Trump is well ahead in the delegate race, with 845 toward the 1,237 total needed to nominate. Cruz, the senator from Texas, has 559, and Kasich, who’s won only his home state of Ohio, has 145.
They’re running out of time and delegates. Both know they mathematically can’t win on a first ballot. So Kasich is supposed to essentially pull out of Indiana’s May 3 primary and Cruz out of primaries in Oregon May 17 and New Mexico June 7.
Cruz and Kasich each need the convention to go to a second or third ballot, when most delegates would not be bound to a particular candidate – namely Trump.
They may have unwittingly given Trump important new ammunition against them – after all, he’s built his insurgent campaign on railing against the establishment.
“They colluded,” Trump bellowed in Rhode Island, where he was campaigning Monday. “It shows how weak they are. How pathetic they are.”
Maybe not. Kasich, who seemed less enthusiastic about the plan than Cruz seemed, was taken aback when asked whether he’d colluded with a rival.
“What’s the big deal? We’re going to go to a convention. It’s going to be an open convention,” Kasich said. “I said I think it’s fair because in some places we haven’t spent a lot of resources.”
In what may be a major problem with the plan, Kasich said he would not ask his supporters in Indiana to vote for Cruz instead of him. That’s because the Ohio governor has already secured a number of delegates who support him and would be free to vote for him after the first ballot.
What’s the big deal?
“I believe the alliance is an acknowledgment by the Cruz campaign that their route to the nomination, like Kasich’s, is at the convention,” said Robert Walker, a former GOP representative from Pennsylvania who is advising the Ohio governor.
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, says the strategy may work for Cruz in Indiana. “The polls are close enough there so that it might have the desired effect for Cruz. If Trump wins Indiana, the fat lady will start warming up.”
However, it might be difficult to get Cruz supporters to vote for Kasich, and vice versa.
In Michigan, for example, which shares a long border with Indiana as well as similar economies and demographics, there were distinct differences between Cruz and Kasich voters.
Network exit polls in last month’s Michigan primary, which Trump won, showed Kasich and Trump in a virtual tie for moderate voters – Trump won 37 percent and Kasich 36 percent. Cruz had 12 percent.
In Indiana, Trump leads with 41 percent, Cruz has 33 percent and Kasich has 16 percent, according to a recent Fox News poll.
Will that Kasich support go to Cruz and help him defeat Trump there?
“The typical Hoosier voter doesn’t like to be told what to do,” said Brian Howey, an Indianapolis-based pollster.
Indiana has 27 statewide delegates, pledged to the candidate who wins the popular vote and and 27 delegates divided among the state’s nine congressional districts, bound to the local winner. There are also three delegates selected from the party hierarchy.
Rice University political science professor Mark Jones thinks it’s a winning strategy, especially for Cruz. “In Indiana, a relatively unified anti-Trump vote behind Cruz should allow the senator to win the coveted 30 statewide delegates as well as between five and seven of the nine congressional districts with three delegates each,” said Jones.
A Cruz Indiana delegate haul in the range of 45 to 51 would strike “a serious blow” to Trump’s hopes of winning on the first ballot, and blunt momentum Trump is expected to have after his anticipated sweep of five primary wins Tuesday, Jones said.
And third-party supporters are falling in line.
Kellyanne Conway, director of research and media outreach for a pro-Cruz political action committee called Trusted Leadership, said that the super PAC has added a pro-Cruz spot to its television buy in Indiana. At the same time, the PAC has shelved advertising plans in New Mexico and Oregon.
In Oregon, GOP party chairman Bill Currier does not think there will be much of a difference in the outcome in his state without Cruz campaigning. “I don’t see their supporters changing their votes. I don’t really see a lot changing,” he said.
The state’s 28 delegates, bound through two ballots, are allocated proportionately, so Currier is expecting that Kasich may get 3 delegates and that Trump and Cruz would split the remainder.
New Mexico is more of a puzzle. It’s a state that has elected Hispanic Republicans, including the current governor, Susana Martinez. Cruz’s heritage, as well as the state’s long border with Texas, would seem to be a plus for him, said Lonna Atkeson, director of the Center for the Study of Voting, Elections and Democracy.
“I don’t necessarily see where voters would turn to the other candidate,” she said.