Florida: The messy fight for the Republican presidential nomination is shifting to a luxury seaside resort in Florida as Donald Trump and chief rival Ted Cruz quietly court party leaders ahead of another set of high-stakes delegate contests.
Cruz conceded publicly for the first time that he doesn't have enough support to claim the nomination before the party's summertime national convention, but he also vowed on Wednesday to block Trump from collecting the necessary delegates as well. The Texas conservative predicted a contested convention that many party loyalists fear could trigger an all-out Republican civil war.
"What's clear today is that we are headed to a contested convention," Cruz told reporters in between private meetings with Republican National Committee members gathered at the Diplomat Resort & Spa for the first day of their three-day annual spring meeting.
Both Trump and the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, were pushing ahead toward Northeast primaries on an increasingly direct path to party nominations after trouncing their challengers Tuesday in New York.
Clinton, now 81 percent of the way toward clinching the Democratic nomination that eluded her eight years ago, can lose every remaining contest and still prevail. Advisers to rival Bernie Sanders offered no signs of the Vermont senator giving up before the Democrats' Philadelphia convention.
Trump is increasingly optimistic about his chances in five states set to vote next Tuesday: Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. He is now the only Republican candidate who can possibly collect the 1,237 delegate majority needed to claim the nomination before the party's July convention. Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have been mathematically eliminated, yet both contend they can win the nomination at the convention.
Campaigning in Indiana, Trump railed against his party's leadership, even as his senior lieutenants courted Republican officials behind closed doors in Florida.
"It's a rigged, crooked system that's designed so that the bosses can pick whoever they want and that people like me can't run and can't defend you against foreign nonsense," Trump said.
Roughly at the same time, Trump's newly hired political director, Rick Wiley, was hosting a series of private meetings at the Florida resort with party officials from states set to vote in the coming weeks. The veteran political operative, who previously worked for the RNC, is tasked with helping Trump play catch-up in the complicated state-by-state nomination process.
Trump's top aides were set to deliver a private briefing to RNC members Thursday afternoon outlining his path to victory.
The side-by-side Republican efforts at this late stage — with Trump amassing primary victories while Cruz digs for the support of delegates who could settle the nomination — are unprecedented in recent presidential campaigns and add to the deeply uncertain nature of the race.