Ted Cruz seeks to stop Donald Trump in Indiana
Republican Ted Cruz faces a high-stakes test for his slumping presidential campaign in Tuesday's Indiana primary, one of the last opportunities for the Texas senator to halt Donald Trump's stunning march toward the GOP nomination.
Mr Cruz has spent the past week camped out in Indiana, securing the support of the state's governor and announcing retired technology executive Carly Fiorina as his running mate.
Yet his aides were pessimistic heading into Tuesday's voting and were prepared for Mr Cruz to fall short.
With polls predicting a loss, campaign officials were bracing for immediate staffing cuts "at a minimum", according to one aide.
The aide said the campaign was preparing for "a very sombre" address on Tuesday night in Indianapolis.
Publicly, however, the senator has vowed to stay in the race, regardless of the results.
"I am in for the distance, as long as we have a viable path to victory," Mr Cruz told reporters on Monday during a campaign stop.
Mr Trump devoted more time to campaigning in Indiana than he has to most other states, underscoring his eagerness to put his Republican rival away and shift his attention toward Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
While Mr Trump cannot clinch the nomination with a big win in Indiana, his path would get easier and he would have more room for error in the campaign's final contests.
"Indiana is very important, because if I win that's the end of it. It would be over," Mr Trump said during a lunch stop Monday in Indianapolis.
Republican leaders spent months dismissing Mr Trump as little more than an entertainer who would fade once voting started. But Republican primary voters have stuck with the billionaire businessman, handing him victories in every region of the country, including a string of six straight wins on the East Coast.
Mrs Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders also faced off in Indiana's Democratic primary on Tuesday, though the stakes were lower than in the Republican race.
Mrs Clinton holds a commanding lead over Mr Sanders - she's secured 91% of the delegates she needs to win the nomination. That means she can still win the nomination even if she loses every remaining contest.
Mr Sanders has conceded that he faces a difficult path to overtake Mrs Clinton, one that hinges on convincing superdelegates to back him over the former secretary of state. Superdelegates are Democratic Party insiders who can support the candidate of their choice, regardless of how their states vote. And they favour Mrs Clinton by a nearly 18-1 margin.
Neither Mrs Clinton nor Mr Sanders planned to spend Tuesday in Indiana. Mr Sanders was making stops in Kentucky, which holds a primary in mid-May, while Mrs Clinton moved on to Ohio, a key general election battleground.
Mrs Clinton's team has started deploying staff to states that will be crucial in November and is also raising money for the fall campaign. Even as Mr Trump hires more staff to round out his slim team, he already lags far behind Mrs Clinton in general election preparations.
A showdown between Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump would pit one of Democrats' most popular and highly regarded figures against a first-time political candidate who is deeply divisive within his own party.
Mr Cruz and other Republicans have argued that Mr Trump would be roundly defeated in the general election, denying their party the White House for a third straight term.
But Mr Trump is the only Republican left in the race who can secure the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination through regular primary voting. Mr Cruz - as well as Ohio governor John Kasich, who trails significantly in the delegate count - must try to block Mr Trump in Indiana and the handful of other remaining states to push the race toward a contested convention.
In an abrupt strategy shift, Mr Cruz and Mr Kasich announced an alliance of sorts in Indiana. The Ohio governor agreed to stop spending money in Indiana to give Mr Cruz a chance to compete head-to-head with Mr Trump. Mr Cruz has pledged to do the same for Mr Kasich in Oregon and New Mexico, which vote in the coming weeks.
But that strategy, which appeared to unravel even as it was announced, may have backfired. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll found that nearly six in 10 Indiana primary voters disapproved of the Cruz-Kasich alliance.
"After they made the alliance, their numbers tanked," Mr Trump said on Monday. "That's what happens when politicians make deals."
Meanwhile, Mr Trump has resurrected accusations against rival Mr Cruz's father, Rafael Cruz, saying that he was with President John F Kennedy's assassin Lee Harvey Oswald prior to his death.
"The whole thing is ridiculous," Mr Trump said on Fox & Friends on Tuesday ahead of the Indiana primary. "Right prior to his being shot, and nobody brings it up. They don't even talk about that."
A recent National Enquirer report claimed that the elder Cruz appeared in a 1963 photo of Oswald as he handed out leaflets for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.
The Cruz campaign has denied the accusations.
Mr Cruz has since launched a blistering attack on Mr Trump, saying that if Indiana lets Mr Trump win Tuesday's presidential primary, America is "looking, potentially, at the Biff Tannen" presidency, a reference to the 1980's film Back To The Future."
"We are not a proud, boastful, self-centred, mean spirited, hateful, bullying nation," Mr Cruz told reporters in Evansville, Indiana, before citing the film. The film's screenwriter said in an interview with The Daily Beast last year that the film's character Biff Tannen was based on Mr Trump.
"The screenwriter says that he based the character Biff Tannen on Donald Trump - a character of a braggadocios, arrogant buffoon who builds giant casinos with giant pictures of him everywhere he looks," Mr Cruz said. "We are looking, potentially, at the Biff Tannen presidency."
Mr Cruz also denounced accusations Mr Trump made about his father, calling his dad "my hero".