BEDFORD, Ind. With Donald Trump emerging as the favourite to win Indiana's primary on Tuesday and cement his grip on the Republican U.S. presidential nomination, his main rival Ted Cruz lashed out in unusually harsh terms, slamming the billionaire as a "pathological liar" and "amoral."
Cruz has been counting on a win in Tuesday's primary to slow the New York businessman's progress towards the nomination.
But polls in recent days have shown Trump opening up a substantial lead in the Midwestern state over the U.S. senator from Texas.
Campaigning in Evansville, Indiana, Cruz sounded deeply frustrated by the bombastic real estate mogul, who has ripped conservative Cruz at every turn.
"The man cannot tell the truth but he combines it with being a narcissist," Cruz said of Trump, "a narcissist at a level I don't think this country has ever seen."
Cruz also termed Trump a "serial philanderer" -- likely as part of his strategy to try to siphon the support of evangelical voters from Trump.
Republican voters in Indiana could give Trump an almost unstoppable advantage in his turbulent journey towards the party's presidential nomination. He holds a double-digit polling lead in the state.
Trump, who frequently refers to Cruz as "Lyin' Ted," quickly responded to his rival's attack.
"Over the last week, I have watched Lyin’ Ted become more and more unhinged as he is unable to react under the pressure and stress of losing, in all cases by landslides, the last six primary elections --- in fact, coming in last place in all but one of them," he said in a statement.
Trump has drawn both passionate support and vitriolic condemnation with his stands on immigration and national security - including a call to build a wall along the Mexican border that he says Mexico would pay for and a bid to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States.
Fresh off a sweep of five Northeastern states last week, a Trump win on Tuesday could put him within reach of the 1,237 delegates required to lock up the Republican nomination before the party's convention in July.
"If we win Indiana, it's over," he told a cheering crowd in Terre Haute, Indiana, on the eve of the vote.
Cruz's fading prospects prompted more soul-searching among Republican operatives and voters alike.
Mark Salter, a former top aide to Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, tweeted Tuesday that he could not support Trump in the general election and would instead back Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee.
Contacted by Reuters, Salter elaborated: "She is fit for office. He isn't."
Salter also called Clinton "the more conservative choice."
Goldie Hicks, 77, of Brazil, Indiana, cast a vote for Cruz and said she wasn't sure if she could support Trump in November. "He's just too loud, too boisterous," Hicks said. Nor could she support Clinton, she said.
Cruz vowed on Monday to "compete to the end" but a loss in Indiana would be particularly crushing for the senator, who has argued that his brand of religious conservatism is a natural draw for heartland Republicans.
Cruz's fury on Tuesday was set off by Trump linking the senator's father to John F. Kennedy's assassin.
The Texan pulled no punches. "I'm going to tell you what I really think of Donald Trump.
This man is a pathological liar. He doesn't know the difference between truth and lies," he told reporters.
"He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth. And...his response is to accuse everybody else of lying."
For Cruz, Tuesday's critique of Trump was his fiercest yet. But it may come far too late. Earlier in the campaign, he refused to bash Trump over such proposals such as Trump's call for a ban on Muslim immigration.
In December, Cruz vowed that he "won't get engaged in personal insults and attacks" with Trump and warned that voters are turned off by "a bunch of politicians bickering like school children."
Trump now has 996 delegates, compared with 565 for Cruz and 153 for Ohio Governor John Kasich, according to The Associated Press. Another 57 delegates are up for grabs in Indiana.
Top Trump aide Corey Lewandowski told CNN on Tuesday the campaign expected to win more than required number of delegates - 1,300 to 1,400.
Julie Blackwell Chase, a clerk treasurer in the town of Bedford in southern Indiana, said she voted early for Trump in part because she appreciated his willingness to break with conventional politics. "We need new blood," she said.
On the Democratic side, front-runner Clinton holds a lead of more than 6 percentage points in Indiana over rival Bernie Sanders, according to an average of recent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.
Despite Clinton's formidable delegate lead, the U.S. senator from Vermont campaigned heavily in Indiana on his message against income inequality and Wall Street excesses.
Jeremy Williamson weathered cold rain in Indianapolis to vote for Sanders, who he thinks should stay in the race to push Clinton to be more progressive. "I want to see the political revolution that everybody's promising," he said.
Clinton has already moved on to West Virginia, which holds its primary next week. On Tuesday, she tried to reassure coal workers in that state that her administration would work on their behalf as their industry faces an increasing threat from other sources of energy such as natural gas.
(Additional reporting by Alana Wise in Indianapolis and Ginger Gibson in Terre Haute and Doina Chiacu and David Alexander in Washington; Writing by James Oliphant and Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Alistair Bell)
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Updated Date: May 04, 2016 02:00 AM