With an eye on Indiana, Cruz applies light touch to eastern contests

Story highlights

  • Ted Cruz is resisting sinking too much energy into what are likely to be losing contests
  • Cruz currently has no announced plans to campaign in most of the states that vote on April 26

Frederick, Maryland (CNN)Ted Cruz landed here late Wednesday night after courting influential Republicans in Florida. He departed for Indiana a half-day later, shuttling to a deli and a state party dinner.

And it's not clear whether he'll return.
"If we show him an amazing welcome today," Maryland legislator Kathy Afzali told the crowd, trying to remain hopeful, "I have a feeling he's going to come back before Tuesday."
    As the Texas senator approaches a series of states in which he predicts he will perform poorly, he is firmly resisting sinking too much energy into what are likely to be losing contests. That reluctance to dive deep into the weeds of the northeast was on full display here Thursday, as Cruz hopped quickly in and out of one of the two states where he sees a chance at picking up delegates even on unfriendly terrain.
    Every campaign thinks carefully about how hard to campaign in places unlikely to offer considerable support. Yet Cruz's northeast bid is a particularly narrow one for a candidate who has pledged to run a national race and compete in every state in the primary. And as Cruz keeps one eye trained on Indiana he runs the risk of being seen as marginalizing the five states that vote a week before it.
    Cruz currently has no announced plans to campaign in most of the states that vote on April 26: Rhode Island, Connecticut or Delaware, a trio of states where Donald Trump is expected to romp.
    Giovanni Cicione, the head of Cruz's campaign in Rhode Island, said he didn't feel snubbed, but recognized the campaign was making strategic calculations: "I'm hopeful, at some point, that Rhode Island works into that formula -- but if it doesn't, I understand that too."
    And his twin focuses, Maryland and Pennsylvania, have been less than full throttle. Some surrogates of his in Maryland say it is unlikely for him to return before the primary, though Cruz's schedule is often late-to-develop and pulled off on short notice.
    Pennsylvania is the state where Cruz has campaigned the most aggressively: He will stump there on Friday and has begun advertising on television. But even there, his slate of delegates who pledge to support him includes only 26 names, less than half of the total number of unbound delegates that he could recruit for ballots statewide.
    It is a consequence, in part, of the stakes he has placed on Indiana, which votes May 3 and could reset the narrative in the Republican race. Cruz landed in Indianapolis on Thursday for a pastrami sandwich at a local deli, where he was fielding questions from voters about the stability of crops and thanking patrons for their welcoming him to the state. And on his inaugural campaign trip to the state he was also chasing down a potential endorsement from its GOP governor, Mike Pence.
    "Heidi and I, we are going to spend a lot of time in the state working to earn your votes -- barnstorming the state, holding town halls, holding rallies, asking for your support," Cruz told an Indiana GOP dinner on Thursday evening. He then recited a scene from the film "Hoosiers": "The entire country, her eyes are on the state of Indiana, the men and women in this room," Cruz said.
    Cruz will have a major assist in Indiana from anti-Trump forces, including the Club for Growth, which on Thursday said it would spend $1.5 million to bash Trump in the state. Cruz this week quietly began more than $600,000 of advertising in Indiana, even as he passes on TV time in every April 26 state, save for Pennsylvania.
    And if Cruz can beat Trump in the Hoosier State, Cruz allies believe, it could ignite momentum that lasts up until the last Republican contest in early June.
    "Some of these states -- Connecticut, Rhode Island -- these are Rockefeller-type Republicans. They're not going to resonate with Cruz," said Sen. Michael Hough, the chair of Cruz's Maryland campaign. "Then in May, the map flips back."
    It is also a consequence of a data-driven campaign that does not want to waste their most precious resource: time. In Maryland, Cruz's state backers have expressed optimism about picking off a few delegates in places ranging from the Baltimore suburbs, where Cruz stumped Monday, to inner cities.
    But it is a highly-targeted campaign and it was on center stage Thursday as Cruz's supporters narrowed their pitch to the conservative region of the state -- not the state as a whole -- as they lavished praise on their way of life in the western panhandle even in a deeply blue state.
    "Frederick County is a conservative county," Hough told the crowd here, harkening back to when a different presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy, visited the area more than a half-century ago. "Just like in 1960, Frederick County is going to make history."