By THOMAS BEAUMONT and JILL COLVIN
LA PORTE, Ind. (AP) – On the eve of Indiana’s primary, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are looking past their struggling rivals and directly at each other, previewing the caustic one-on-one race that seems inevitable if they sew up the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations.
Trump made clear Monday that he will have more to say about his accusation that Clinton is playing gender politics: "We’re making a list of the many, many times where it’s all about her being a woman."
"I haven’t started on Hillary yet," he told CNN, although actually he’s been trashing her record for quite some time.
For her part, Clinton told thousands at an NAACP dinner in Detroit on Sunday that President Barack Obama’s legacy can’t be allowed to "fall into Donald Trump’s hands" and be consumed by "these voices of hatred." She cited Trump’s "insidious" part in the birther movement that questioned Obama’s citizenship.
But if they’re itching to engage in full measure, they still have party rivals to dispatch, and Trump’s next challenge is to beat back Sen. Ted Cruz in Indiana on Tuesday. He’s got farther to go win the prize than does Clinton in her contest with Bernie Sanders.
Trump is exuding confidence, telling a cheering crowd Sunday in Terre Haute: "If we win here, it’s over, OK?"
Not quite, as the New York real estate mogul can’t win enough delegates Tuesday to clinch the Republican nomination. But after his wins in five states last week, Trump no longer needs to win a majority of the remaining delegates in coming races to lock up the GOP nomination.
Cruz has no such cushion. Already eliminated from reaching 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination outright, he desperately needs a victory in Indiana to keep Trump from that number and press ahead with his strategy of claiming the nomination at a contested convention in Cleveland this summer.
"This whole long, wild ride of an election has all culminated with the entire country with its eyes fixed on the state of Indiana," Cruz said Sunday at a late night rally. "The people of this great state, I believe the country is depending on you to pull us back from the brink."
The importance of Indiana for Cruz became evident even before he and fellow underdog John Kasich formed an alliance of sorts, with the Ohio governor agreeing to pull his advertising money from Indiana in exchange for Cruz doing the same in Oregon and New Mexico.
But that strategy, which appeared to unravel even as it was announced, can’t help either man with the tens of thousands of Indiana voters who had already cast ballots: Early voting began in Indiana three weeks before they hatched their plan.
It also risks alienating those who have yet to vote, said veteran Indiana Republican pollster Christine Matthews. She said she believes many have continued to vote for Kasich in Indianapolis and in the wealthy suburbs north of the city.
"Indiana voters don’t like the idea of a political pact, or being told how to vote," Matthews said.
Trump went after Cruz on Sunday, suggesting evangelical conservatives have "fallen out of love with him" and mocked his decision to announce former GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina as his running mate.
"They’re like hanging by their fingertips," he said, mimicking Cruz and Kasich: "Don’t let me fall! Don’t let me fall!"
Trump let on that he’s eager to move on to a likely general election race against Clinton.
He said the end game of the primary battle with Cruz is "wasting time" that he could be spending raising money for Republicans running for the Senate.
"It would be nice to have the Republican Party come together," Trump told supporters in Fort Wayne. "With that being said, I think I’ll win anyway."
Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Julie Bykowicz Washington contributed to this report.
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