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GOP Candidates Court Indiana, The Next State To Hold A Primary

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Even after last night's primary wins, Donald Trump is not assured of the Republican nomination. He faces challenges ahead, including Indiana, where we go next. NPR's Asma Khalid is in Indianapolis. Hey.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey, Lourdes - or, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Exactly. This is kind of feeling like the primary season that will not end. How big a deal is next week's vote?

KHALID: So Indiana is really important, I would say, for the Republicans, and it's really important to Donald Trump. I think it's maybe the most vital state left for him because it could really make or break his ability to get to that all-important number - 1,237. And he recognized that himself last night in his victory speech. We heard Donald Trump give a specific Indiana shout out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: We'll be going to Indiana. I'll be leaving tomorrow afternoon for just a long stay, and it's a great state. I have many, many friends there.

KHALID: And I've been in Indianapolis now since last week. And Trump was also here campaigning at, I think, it was last - after last - last week's primaries. And he's here in Indianapolis again tonight campaigning with Bobby Knight. He's a Hall of Fame basketball coach who's also sort of known for his temper.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So we've been hearing a lot about Trump's challengers, of course Ted Cruz and John Kasich saying that they're going to divide up the remaining states in order to challenge Trump. Who's state is Indiana?

KHALID: So yeah, I mean, there's this alliance that we've been hearing a lot about. And for starters, I think it means that people here are going to be seeing a lot of Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz is the one who the campaigns banked on would have a better chance stopping Donald Trump in Indiana. And again, this is all about getting to that magic number - 1,237.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right.

KHALID: I think the problem with this approach, though, is that the makeup of the Indiana electorate may make this strategy kind of tricky to implement.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How so?

KHALID: There's a sizable chunk of self-identified moderate Republicans here. And many of these pro-business Republicans who kind of reside in Indianapolis and in the suburbs liked John Kasich. And some of them - I've interviewed them - they really don't like Ted Cruz. So I think it's hard to predict whether these Kasich Republicans will align behind Cruz.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you say you've been talking to voters. You know, what are they telling you?

KHALID: Well, I think that they're sort of torn. I talked to one voter who liked both Ted Cruz and John Kasich. But he was very wary about Ted Cruz's focus on religion. But now, because of this so-called alliance, this non-compete, he says he's going to go with Cruz even though he likes Kasich better because he really wants to stop Trump.

But then I talked to another Kasich supporter who says he's still planning to vote for the governor of Ohio next week. And he worries that this deal could kind of backfire, that it smelled bad to some Republicans. And again, he's not really sure that everyone who's pro-Kasich is also pro-Cruz, you know? And then, of course, Donald Trump has been pointing to this deal as proof that the political establishment is rigging the campaign against him. And he has, of course, a large constituency in Indiana as well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, is that resonating among voters there, what he's saying, Trump?

KHALID: I think it is. I mean, what I was intrigued is that - when I was talking to Kasich supporters, I heard a couple of them voice concerns about this deal and whether or not it would sort of smell of collusion.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, it just feels like one of the - there's a lot of anger obviously among the electorate, and when they are looking at this, they're saying is our vote actually counting? You know, there's a lot of people who are Trump supporters.

KHALID: There are and, you know, he was here last week and brought out a few thousand people at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. And, you know, we've heard so much this campaign about him bringing out sort of a diverse group of people. I met a doctor was a first-time voter. I met a former Obama supporter who was in the crowd - a sort of diverse electorate. But again, you know, there's a sizable white working-class population in Indiana because of the manufacturing sector. And Donald Trump polls very well from that group.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I'm curious, you know, this is all about stopping Trump. So what does the delegate picture look like in Indiana right now?

KHALID: About half of the delegates in the state are allocated by congressional district. And so for each congressional district, whoever wins will get three delegates. And then, you know, there are regions of the state, I would say, that are home to staunch Christian conservatives. For some perspective, I was driving down the highway from north down to Indianapolis, and you see these giant billboards. One read Hell is real. So there are many people here who have deep concerns about religious liberty and abortion.

And Ted Cruz has a natural support base among those social conservatives. So I think he will certainly be able to pick up some delegates by focusing on those specific congressional districts where more evangelical voters live. But the issue is that more than half of the delegates go to the statewide winner. And so Cruz needs to broaden his support if he hopes to prevent Trump from winning this state.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Asma Khalid in Indiana, thank you so much.

KHALID: You're welcome.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Thanks for the update on my home state. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.