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Cruz-Fiorina Campaign Rolls Into ‘RV Capital’

April 29, 2016 by   Leave a Comment

Ted Cruz with Frank Lucchese during Thursday's campaign stop (Photo by Roger Schneider)

Ted Cruz with Frank Lucchese (L) during Thursday’s campaign stop at Lucchese’s Italian Restaurant on the east side of Elkhart, Ind. (Photo by Roger Schneider)

If Indiana is in fact “Ground Zero” for the national Republican presidential race, the very epicenter of the Hoosier State’s electoral race on the brink of next week’s primary election – at least for a couple of hours on Thursday (April 28) — was Lucchese’s Italian Restaurant on County Road 17 on the east side of Elkhart, Ind. A popular eatery co-owned in part by Republican County Commissioner Frank Lucchese and his wife, Tonja, it’s a place where RV industry executives tend to gather on occasion for an aperitif, a good-hearted debate and a plate full of chicken linguine.

What put Lucchese’s in the nation’s political cross-hairs was a visit by Republican candidate Ted Cruz, the headline-making Texas senator and presidential candidate, and his newly named vice presidential running mate, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. Their “Cruz to Victory” bus pulled up in front of the restaurant about 3 p.m. yesterday and was greeted by a waiting crowd of supporters in traditionally Republican Elkhart County.

Cruz, also accompanied by his wife, Heidi, and kids, spent the bulk of his time in Elkhart, the U.S. RV industry’s manufacturing hub, pressing the flesh and visiting one-on-one with some of the hundreds of area residents on hand to get a glimpse of the man who is simultaneously revered by many of his conservative supporters and reviled by his political opponents.

Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese, left, poses for a photo with Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz (Photo by Roger Schneider)

Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese, left, poses for a photo with Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz (Photo by Roger Schneider)

Clearly, Cruz and Fiorina were taking the high road Thursday on the street outside Lucchese’s and then inside the restaurant talking rather intimately for the most part while surrounded by national and regional media as if the race — considered by some as a potential “Alamo” for Cruz after Trump’s five-state Tuesday victory — was anything but over.

Convinced that the stakes are high in Indiana for the party and conservative constitutional issues, many in the crowd peppered with current and former RV industry people were clearly looking for a brokered convention that could well result in an open field run for the Cruz-Fiorina ticket. “As much as Donald Trump wants this to be over, it’s not over,” Fiorina told reporters later in the day at a South Bend Century Center rally.

That message, for the most part, wasn’t lost on the crowd outside, which, in all fairness, included a mix of Cruz devotees as well as undecided observers and even a handful of opponents carrying signs reading “Ignorance and Discrimination are not Hoosier Values” and “Ted Cruz is Dividing America, not Uniting America.”

“This is the first time in 41 years we’ve had a chance to actually see the top candidates for president, so I wanted to see him in person, and see Ms. Fiorina since she was just picked as a vice presidential running mate,” said Roberta Baum, a history teacher from Constantine, Mich. “So, as a woman, that really means a lot to me and I really wanted to see her, too.”

Besides, Baum felt being there was simply the right thing to do for her as an educator. “Well, as a teacher, I always encourage my kids to go out and vote and to participate in the process. And so, of course, I have to say that I do that myself.”

Bob Ramsey, a Thor Industries Inc. cabinet shop employee who lives nearby, was one of the uncommitted attendees. “I’m undecided right now,” he told RVBUSINESS.com. “I’m going to see how things play out this fall, I think, and go from there.”

“I really think that Ted Cruz exemplifies the values and the principles that I do, and I would really hope that we would get a leader in this country that would lead us in that direction,” said John Baker, a Goshen resident and painter who also works for a local vending company, adding that he isn’t satisfied with some of the directions he’s seeing in America right now, despite the area’s current economic resurgence.

“Well, I just have an issue with a lot of things that are going on,” he said. “For example, the freedom of religion — I have strong opinions on that and on the (transgender) use of bathrooms in public places. I’m very much opposed to that. So, I thought I’d just come out today, show some support and see what they had to say. I’ve been following this primary season the whole time. It’s do or die right now in Indiana for Ted Cruz, and I just hope that Indiana comes through and keeps it going toward a contested convention.”

Like many of those in attendance at the relatively quiet political meet-and-greet, Dave Hoien, a 52-year old ex-Coachmen employee who currently works for Home Comfort Experts, is pulling for Cruz. Yet he’s somewhat reluctantly willing to vote for Trump if, indeed, push comes to shove.

“My wife was actually a Democrat and I got her to switch from Hillary to Trump at least, so I got her a little bit closer to the fold,” Hoien told a National Public Radio reporter outside Lucchese’s not far from the Cruz-Fiorina campaign bus. “But if Trump wins the nomination I will vote for him because I’m a loyal Republican. But I don’t want to talk about that right now. I want Ted Cruz to be my president. And I just know that it would be a total disaster if Hillary Clinton became our next president — or Bernie Sanders for that matter.”

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