Andrea Wurtz, walking her attention-getting bulldog Jackson in Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis on Thursday, looked pained when she was asked about the presidential primary in her state.
A strong supporter of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, she had tickets for an election watch party with him for May 3 election night when his campaign announced he was pulling out of Indiana. In a pact with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kasich agreed to skip campaigning in Indiana in return for Cruz to stay out of Oregon and New Mexico.
The objective: to stop frontrunner Donald Trump from getting enough delegates to win in the first round at the convention at the Republican convention.
It is not a choice that is sitting well with most Kasich voters. “My first choice did not decide to come to Indianapolis,” she said, as the dog barked at bicycles and snatched a plastic wand from a pre-school admirer. “I would like to see something happen in the stars for him to go through the back door.”
Not a Trump fan - “I hate to see the election turn into reality TV” - she was struggling with the strategic option of voting Tuesday for Cruz, who she disliked less. “I’m still wrestling with it.”
Both Cruz and Kasich are gambling they can beat Trump in a second or third round at the convention - something that will only happen if Trump does not collect the 1,237 delegates he needs to win outright. For Cruz and Kasich, election night in Indiana is shaping up as a make-or-break night.
“It’s a unique election, and unique elections require unique actions,” said Jim Brainard, the mayor of Carmel, an affluent Indianapolis suburb. Brainard is chairman of the Kasich campaign in the state and a delegate to the convention. He said that if only 10 percent of the Kasich vote shifts to Cruz, that could give the Texan the victory in what polls show is a close race with Trump 6 points ahead - though no poll results have emerged from the days since Cruz and Kasich announced their new strategy.
Cruz’s announcement in Indianapolis of former business executive Carly Fiorina as his running mate was meant to jolt the business-as-usual of campaigning.
Indiana has 57 delegates at stake, 30 tied to the state’s popular vote result and the rest bound by results in each congressional district - three delegates per district. And locals are enjoying all the unexpected national attention after years of not being a factor in the presidential race. But the gamesmanship has a downside.
Denise Moe, 39, a Republican activist in Carmel, had a Kasich sign in her yard and when she learned about the deal she immediately took it down. She now has a Trump sign but hasn’t put it up yet.
“I felt pretty insulted as a previous Kasich supporter,” she said. “It was a little bit of a scam, not an honorable thing to do.” Moe is almost certain she’ll go for Trump instead. “There is no way I could vote for Cruz,” she said, who she considers “almost a theo-crat.”
Jennifer Hallowell, a veteran Indiana Republican consultant, said, “Kasich voters range from disappointed to angry, and some are planning on voting for Trump. They’re p.o.’d by the deal.”
Cruz, though popular with his base, is having trouble expanding his support. Radio talk show host Jake Query, who co-hosts an afternoon drive time sports program on Fox Sports 97.5, thinks the Texan fumbled in attempts to connect with voters. In re-enacting a basketball scene from the movie “Hoosiers,” Cruz referred to the basketball “ring” instead of rim and he compared Trump’s campaign to crashing at the Indy 500.
“It just looks too desperate,” said Query of the basketball scene at the same gym where the movie was shot. And bringing up crashes did not sit well with the sports-loving audience. “The Indy 500 is a revered thing here,” he said.
Paul Helmke, a professor at Indiana University who was mayor of Fort Wayne for 12 years, said that he didn’t think Cruz’s strategic moves with Kasich and Fiorina “are going to make much of a difference.”
“Both moves comes across as seeming a little desperate,” he said. “It’s a couple of ‘Hail Mary’ passes. I don’t think it’s enough to counter Trump’s lead.”
But Trump’s lead is narrow and the fanfare around flamboyant former Indiana University coach Bobby Knight endorsing him is not the coup it may seem to people outside the state. “I’m a huge I.U. fan,” said financial analyst Dave Purk. “I felt like I was in an abusive relationship with Knight. Trump and Knight are probably two peas in a pod.”
Tom John, a Republican party official who is an at-large delegate to the convention, is also a Kasich supporter. So, is he doing the strategic voting thing and going for Cruz? “I haven’t decided yet,” he said. “I’m suffering from the same internal dissonance of other Kasich supporters.”
And that means Tuesday’s results - and the course of the campaign - are also unknown.