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Donald Trump's Rivals Count On Indiana In Strategy To Block GOP Front-Runner


Indiana can be the state that makes or breaks Donald Trump's quest to reach that magic number of delegates, 1,237. Both Ted Cruz and John Kasich are now mathematically eliminated from getting the Republican nomination. Their only hope is to force Donald Trump into a contested convention, and Indiana is key to that strategy. But it could be tough. NPR's Asma Khalid reports.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Indiana's my home state, grew up here, went to college here. It's a reliably red state, and it's also a microcosm of the Republican Party's civil war. There are two kinds of Republicans here competing for space - the pro-business folks and the evangelicals. And then there are people like James Rasp.

JAMES RASP: I've never voted, period.

KHALID: I met Rasp at a Trump rally the other day. He's 50, a doctor, and he tells me this is his first time voting ever. He decided to register because of Trump's nationalist, economic message.

RASP: The whole country's in trouble if there's no jobs.

KHALID: Rasp wanted me to know that he doesn't love all of Trump's foreign policy ideas.

RASP: Some of this stuff he says is stupid, idiotic, but the economy is number one. If you don't fix that, everything else is a loss.

KHALID: Trump has a built-in base here. Indiana's the leading manufacturing state in the country. And there have been some ups and downs in that industry here, so there are plenty of white working-class voters who like what Trump's saying about trade. Then there are Republicans for whom religion comes first.

ED NEUFELDT: Lord, I come to you at this time, and I thank you for this food that we're about to eat.

KHALID: That's Ed Neufeldt. I met him over lunch in Elkhart County. Neufeldt rose to fame for introducing President Obama at his speech during the recession.

NEUFELDT: I think the people that are really churchgoers and the real believers, I think they'll go with Ted Cruz instead of Donald Trump.

KHALID: Neufeld says initially he liked Trump, but...

NEUFELDT: Well, he just made the statement that he thought it was all right for transgenders to go in any bathroom that they wanted to. I don't know. I just don't think that's right.

KHALID: And so now Neufeldt is leaning toward Cruz. Cruz has the backing of many social conservatives, but to win, he needs to expand that support. And so he picked former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina to be his running mate. And he's agreed not to compete with Ohio Gov. John Kasich for votes. In Indiana, the thinking is that if Kasich doesn't campaign here, his supporters will line up behind Cruz.

SAM POLLOCK: I'm leaning towards John Kasich right now.

KHALID: Sam Pollock is a college student from Southern Indiana. I first met him last week when he was torn between Kasich and Cruz, and he had some reservations.

POLLOCK: I just think Ted Cruz is too religious for me.

KHALID: Pollock's the kind of voter Cruz will need to win over. So after this deal with Kasich and Cruz was announced, I wondered if he had changed his mind, and we gave him a ring.


KHALID: He says he did have a change of heart.

POLLOCK: You got to pick the best of the worst, and, you know, I didn't want to vote for him, but I figured it was the best choice as a part of an attempt to stop Trump.

KHALID: Pollock is voting for Cruz, but the assumption that pro-Kasich voters are naturally pro-Cruz voters could be a gamble in Indiana.

Up north in Elkhart, Jan Mellott runs a business with her husband. They make curtains and bedding for RVs. Elkhart got hit hard during the recession. These days, Mellott's business is thriving, but the economy is key in her vote.

JAN MELLOTT: I don't care for Cruz. He's a little too conservative for me, possibly. That's part of it. I feel like I'm being preached to all the time. I like John Kasich. I don't think he's electable, and I wanted to pick a Republican president. So that's where my vote went.

KHALID: Mellott voted earl. Her choice...

MELLOTT: I mean, I voted for Donald Trump. Am I in love with him? No.

KHALID: And so it seems for some Hoosiers, Trump is less polarizing than Cruz. Asma Khalid, NPR News, Indianapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.