(CNN) – The map weaves from hardscrabble downstate Delaware to heavily Catholic Rhode Island to tony Fairfield County boating towns on the waterfront of Long Island Sound.
Fresh off a bruising defeat at the hands of Donald Trump in New York, Ted Cruz is now retreating to what is, at best, only barely friendlier territory: The I-95 corridor, home to five states that will vote on Tuesday. As Cruz prepares for what could be one of the biggest momentum-stopping weeks of his campaign, he is aiming to make the best of a bad hand.
And the rout on Tuesday means that Cruz now must win 101% of the remaining pledged delegates to clinch the Republican nomination, according to CNN calculations, making a contested convention his only hope. Yet even if Cruz is now officially mathematically eliminated, Trump still has a traditional, even if tight,path to the 1,237 delegates required for a first-ballot win.
So Cruz’s task next week is less about keeping alive his own path to the magic number — and more about narrowing Trump’s.
In a series of contests that his campaign concedes will be rough, the Texas senator is training his eyes on a pair of states, Maryland and Pennsylvania, where he sees chances to pick off delegates even amid Trump’s Northeast sweeps. That could provide enough of a thrust ahead of Indiana, where the campaign is slowly building an Iowa-like pop-up operation to beat Trump on the ground.
“It is important to keep up some momentum,” said Ellen Sauerbrey, a former U.S. ambassador and a longtime Maryland GOP powerbroker who is backing Cruz. “If it looks like Trump is having a clean sweep for the next two weeks, that undermines, I think, his campaign’s momentum enough to slow it down.”
Maryland has long been eyed as the closest thing to an opportunity for the Cruz campaign on an unfriendly April 26 map. The day before the primary in New York — where Cruz had not held a public campaign event in 72 hours — he held a low-key rally in an American Legion hall in this Baltimore suburb.
Unlike in other northeastern states, where his organization ranges from scant to non-existent, Cruz has built a real state campaign here. And much like he tried to do in New York, Cruz is planning to drill down on individual congressional districts, each of which will award three delegates Tuesday.
New York was hardly a proof point for the wisdom of that strategy, despite aides’ early confidence that they could limit Trump’s romp.
Winning districts in Maryland won’t be easy, Republicans on the ground here say, in a state home some of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the United States, which make other states’ partisan-rigged congressional maps look clean-cut. (The American Legion hall where Cruz spoke was in the Third District — the library across the street was in the Second.)
“Things have been drawn in such a way that it is probably a lot harder for a candidate like that to find pure conservative votes,” said Steve Raabe, an unaligned GOP pollster based in Annapolis. “There aren’t automatic congressional district pockets in this state.”