Is Indiana the last stand for Ted Cruz?

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-TX) is joined by governor Mike Pence (R-IN) at a campaign event at The Mill in Marion, Indiana, U.S., Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Cruz had high hopes for a win in Indiana

Indiana was supposed to be where Ted Cruz stopped Donald Trump's recent east coast winning streak. Like Horatius at the bridge, the Texas senator would turn back the Trump throng.

Instead the primary on Tuesday could prove his final undoing.

A Monday afternoon campaign event in the tiny town of Marion, Indiana (population 29,000) gave a taste of what Mr Cruz is up against.

It was supposed to be a feel-good gathering, the candidate's first public appearance with Mike Pence since the Indiana governor had thrown his support to the Texan last week.

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Media captionIndiana primary voters head to the polls: so what's at stake?

That was before a small knot of Trump supporters began heckling Mr Cruz from across a street.

"Lyin' Ted!" they shouted, echoing a favourite Trumpian insult.

"Do the math!" they taunted, in reference to the insurmountable deficit Mr Cruz faces in the all-important convention delegate count.

Leaving the governor behind, Mr Cruz strode over and engaged a protester in what could only be described as a very one-sided discussion.

"America is a better country..." Mr Cruz began.

"Without you," the protester finished.

"Don't just scream and yell at me," Mr Cruz said. "I'm not yelling at you."

The senator tried to explain his position on gun rights, border security and foreign policy.

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Media caption'Trump is lying to you': Cruz confronts Trump protester in Indiana

"This man is lying to you," he said of Mr Trump, "and he's taking advantage of you."

"If I were Donald Trump, I wouldn't have come over and talked to you. I wouldn't have shown you that respect," he continued.

"In fact, you know what I would have done? I would have told the folks over there, go over and punch those guys in the face. That's what Donald does to protesters."

"You're lying, like you always do," replied the man - who said he was a utility worker from Ohio but declined to give his name to reporters.

While Mr Cruz spoke, he joked about his Canadian birthplace and ties to Wall Street.

"Where's your Goldman Sachs jacket," he asked?

The senator was earnestly trying to make his points, citing what he identified as past Trump hypocrisies and conservative apostasies, suggesting they consult Google for proof.

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Media captionProtesters blocked the entrance to the California Republican Party Convention in Burlingame, near San Francisco

It was having no effect. It never seems to.

Throughout the course of the 2016 Republican primary Mr Trump's legions have held fast to their candidate - through the gaffes and the stumbles, despite withering press and a string of rival candidates who try in vain to dent the front-runner's support.

Ted Cruz is the last man standing, and - in Marion and across Indiana - he's taking his best shot. It may not be enough.

Mr Cruz finally turned his back on the protesters and walked to a waiting black SUV and the next stop on his packed campaign schedule.

"I was surprised he had the balls to come over here," the protester said afterward. But did the senator say anything that changed his mind about Mr Trump?

"Hell no," the man answered.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Trump's support has held fast despite negative news coverage and attacks by rivals

If anything, Sunday was an even rougher day for Mr Cruz. His vice-presidential pick, Carly Fiorina, fell off a stage seconds after introducing the candidate and his family.

And at a rally in La Porte he was again heckled - this time by a young boy.

"You suck!" the child shouted.

"One of the things that hopefully someone has told you is that children should actually speak with respect," Mr Cruz said to cheers as the boy was led away by police. "Imagine what a different world it would be if someone had told Donald Trump that years ago."

But in the world Mr Cruz inhabits, Mr Trump and his supporters continue to lob insults his way - and, in perhaps Sunday's worst development for the Texas senator, a poll shows the New York real estate mogul is pulling away in the days before Tuesday's vital Indiana primary.

According to an NBC News survey, Mr Trump is supported by 49% of respondents in the state, compared to Mr Cruz's 34%. Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is no longer campaigning in Indiana, is a distant third.

Such a result would virtually assure that Mr Trump wins all of Indiana's 57 Republican convention delegates, increasing his tally to more than 1,000 and moving him ever closer to the 1,237 necessary to secure the nomination.

It would mean the front-runner would need only modest success in New Jersey and California next month, where he also leads in polls.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mrs Fiorina is now a constant presence on the campaign trail with Mr Cruz

Mr Cruz and his surrogates have been criss-crossing Indiana for nearly a week, and their comments are now tinged with a hint of desperation.

"This is going to be the place of miracles in about 46 hours," conservative commentator Glenn Beck told the La Porte audience as he introduced Mr Cruz.

He said he and Mr Cruz had kneeled in prayer for the fate of the country.

"This will decide the course of the nation," he said.

"Will we still lead the world, or will we be impoverished? Will we be leaders to freedom or will we be slaves?"

Just a month ago it looked like Mr Cruz had all the momentum. A big win in Wisconsin had the senator crowing that he was uniting the Republican Party in opposition to Mr Trump.

Then the New Yorker won his home state and five mid-Atlantic primaries. Now it seems as though Mr Trump is the one the party is grudgingly uniting behind.

"We've had enough intraparty fighting," Jon Huntsman, 2012 candidate and former governor of Utah - a decidedly moderate, establishment figure - told Politico. "It's been clear almost from the beginning that Donald Trump has the ability to assemble a non-traditional bloc of supporters."

Mr Cruz has seen his approval numbers within the Republican Party sharply decline over the past few weeks, while Mr Trump's have held steady. He presented himself as the only alternative to the front-runner, and it's becoming increasingly clear that the party isn't interested.

"The lot is cast in the lap of the Lord," said Claudia Winter, a Cruz supporter who attended the La Porte rally with her daughter.

"God causes nations to rise and fall. It is crucial to do what's right, but we trust in the Lord."

Although the odds are looking longer every day, Mr Cruz's side still has faith in his cause. That may be all they have left.