By Shelby Mullis
FRANKLIN, Ind. — Small towns of central Indiana are in the national spotlight as the May 3 primary election approaches and the locals are rejoicing.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s tour bus made several appearances on the crossroads of Indiana as he spent his Monday on the road, kicking the day off with a campaign rally in Borden, Indiana.
Shortly after noon, Cruz’s driver double-parked the bus outside Zaharako’s Ice Cream Parlor in Columbus, where he ordered ice cream for his daughters and met with local residents before making his way north for pizza at Jockamo Upper Crust Pizza in Greenwood.
Nearly 500 people gathered inside and out of the local pizza joint to shake hands and snap selfies with the Republican presidential candidate. Greenwood resident John McCauley and his son biked from their house for a chance to meet Cruz after learning of the event less than an hour before.
“We just think it’s very cool that he took time out of his campaign schedule to stop in Greenwood, Indiana,” McCauley said. “That certainly says something about him—he’s looking to connect with as many voters as he can. I think it’s very admirable of him to do so.”
David Hopper, a Republican member of the Greenwood City Council, called Cruz’s visit “fantastic” for the city.
“Johnson County, in particular, is a strong Republican area so it makes sense that a presidential candidate would come here,” Hopper said.
Cruz took his pizza to go and headed 10 miles south to the Johnson County Fairgrounds for a rally in Franklin Monday evening. Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness, a Republican, said he learned of Cruz’s appearance only 24 hours before the event.
“It’s an awesome opportunity, not just for Franklin, but for the entire state,” McGuinness said. “Rarely do we ever have a situation in May where Indiana comes into play during the presidential election, whether it’s Republican or Democrat.”
Monday’s evening rally was announced Sunday, just hours before Republican presidential candidate John Kasich made the decision to suspend his Indiana campaign in an effort to help Cruz win Indiana. In the alliance, Cruz suspended his Oregon and New Mexico primary campaigns in an effort to help Kasich win there. The ultimate goal is for both candidates to work together and block the nomination from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“Indiana gets a straight and direct choice between our campaign and Donald Trump,” Cruz said during the rally. “For those supporters of John Kasich either here or at home, there may be issues with which we disagree, but there’s more that unites us.”
For Franklin resident Vicki Poplin, Kasich remains her number one choice, but she said Cruz has the best shot at getting a conservative Republican in the White House.
“Kasich’s campaign manager is quoted in saying that their number one goal is to get to an open convention and I think that clearly Cruz winning the Indiana primary is the best way of preventing Trump from getting all of the delegates,” Poplin said.
Cruz focused on three issues Monday night—jobs, freedom and security. It was those three focal points that Charles Henderson, of Greenfield, said resonated with him.
Henderson showed his support for the Republican candidate at the campaign rally with a homemade sign that read, “Vote 4 Cruz” followed by an explicative and Trump’s name. He said he looks forward to voting for the first time because if he doesn’t, the nomination will go to someone who doesn’t care.
“They’re not going to care about us and they’re not going to care about the future,” Henderson said. “There’s not going to be any economic growth or jobs for me when I turn of the age that they are. Basically, my future is at stake.”
McGuinness said he is grateful candidates are stopping in small towns to speak with Hoosiers like Henderson and solidifying Johnson County’s place on the political map.
“It’s great to see that presidential candidates are recognizing Johnson County, now that Indiana is in play, as a destination they need to stop in in and check it out and talk to as many people as they can,” said McGuinness.
The small town tour continues Tuesday. Cruz is scheduled to hold a rally at the Hoosier Gym in Knightstown at 7 p.m.
Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.