WASHINGTON DC, USA (UPDATED) – White House hopeful Ted Cruz went all-in Wednesday, April 27, as he sought to bar Donald Trump's triumphant march to the Republican nomination, naming Carly Fiorina as his running mate as the primary race hits its final stretch.
The Texas senator made the surprise announcement a day after Trump clinched a knock-out series of wins in five states, putting him within striking distance of the nomination as all eyes turn to next week's key vote in Indiana.
Cruz tapped the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Fiorina as his would be his vice presidential pick, without waiting – as is customary – for the end of the primary campaign.
"Over and over again, Carly has shattered glass ceilings," Cruz told a sheering crowd in Indianapolis as he welcomed her on stage.
Fiorina, 61, has been one of Cruz's staunchest supporters since she abandoned her own White House bid early this year, not to mention an outspoken critic of both Trump and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
In September she stole the show at an early presidential debate by landing stinging blows against Trump, and displaying steely confidence and command of foreign policy.
"Tough fights don't worry me a bit," she told the raucous Cruz rally.
"I am prepared to stand by his side and give this everything I have, to restore the soul of our party, to defeat Donald Trump, to defeat Hillary Clinton, and to take our country back."
Fiorina would be only the third woman on the ticket in a major US political party, after vice presidential nominees Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008.
But Cruz remains far from securing the party nomination.
He is mathematically eliminated from winning the 1,237 delegates needed to prevail outright, and acknowledges his only hope would be to make it to a contested Republican convention in July, and to get a sufficient number of delegates there to vote for him.
If the Fiorina announcement was an effort to shake up the race, the Trump camp was instantly dismissive.
"This is truly one of the greatest acts of desperation I have ever seen," Trump's son Eric posted on Twitter.
Trump meanwhile sought to convey an image of statesmanship following crushing victories in 5 northeastern states that helped him solidify his claim to be the party's flagbearer.
The brash billionaire delivered a sober, scripted speech, short on specifics, in which he promised a top-to-bottom overhaul of US foreign policy to put "America First."
His aim in part was to win over a skeptical establishment, following months of insulting language at campaign rallies that infuriated party grandees.
But Trump perhaps inadvertently highlighted contradictions in his policies, laying out a strategy of restoring US strength and crushing the Islamic State group while cutting allies loose.
"We will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism," Trump told about 150 foreign policy experts as he lashed out at the current US administration.
"We're rebuilding other countries while weakening our own," he said, decrying nation-building missions in the Middle East and the US trade deficit with China.
Like Trump, Clinton looks virtually assured of the Democratic nomination after the former secretary of state crushed her rival Bernie Sanders on Tuesday, April 26 – winning 4 out of 5 states.
Both frontrunning candidates have squarely turned their sights to November's general election and Trump dismissed Clinton's credentials in a frontal attack.
"Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5% of the vote," Trump told supporters. "The only thing she's got going is the woman's card."
Clinton pushed back, saying: "If fighting for women's health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman's card, then deal me in."
Both candidates, meanwhile, must still contend with stubborn rivals intent on tripping them up before their parties' nominating conventions in July.
Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist who has vowed to stay in the race until then, nonetheless announced Wednesday that he is cutting hundreds of campaign staffers across the country, US media reported.
With so many primaries now completed "we no longer require many of the loyal and dedicated state and national support staffers who helped us," Sanders' spokesman Michael Briggs said in a statement.
"We will continue to have a strong and dedicated staff of more than 300 workers who are going to help us win in California and other contests still to come," Briggs added.
Meanwhile on the Republican front Cruz has teamed up with Ohio Governor John Kasich to try to block Trump's path, and wrest the nomination from him at the Republican convention in Cleveland.
Indiana's May 3 primary will be a key test of the "stop Trump" strategy.
Kasich has agreed not to campaign there, giving Cruz an opportunity to compete head to head with Trump for the state's 57 delegates. Cruz has agreed not to compete with Kasich in New Mexico and Oregon.
Trump now stands at 991 delegates, according to CNN's running estimate. Cruz was a distant second with 568, and Kasich at 154. – Michael Mathes and James Mannion, AFP / Rappler.com