WASHINGTON – Ted Cruz aims to use Wisconsin’s presidential primary to extend Donald Trump’s recent rough stretch on the campaign trail. Bernie Sanders would like to administer some tough medicine of his own to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in the state. At the end of the night, the two parties’ front-runners still will be the two parties’ front-runners – but Wisconsin could well adjust the height of their hurdles to clinching the nomination.
A look at what to watch for in Tuesday’s primaries in Wisconsin:
Polls across the state close at 6 p.m. PDT. The state historically has been fairly quick to release its vote count. Milwaukee is generally the exception to that rule, meaning that close races frequently come down to the size and direction of the vote count there.
Republicans will award all 18 delegates to their statewide winner, and three more to the winners in each of the state’s eight congressional districts. Check out who picks up pockets of delegates and where: Cruz is aiming to clean up in Milwaukee, where the Republican base is concentrated and where Trump has been hammered by conservative talk radio; John Kasich has been focusing on Madison; Trump is expected to do well in the north. On the Democratic side, with 86 delegates proportionally at stake on Tuesday, look for Sanders to show strength in Madison, a liberal college town. Clinton needs to do well with the diverse, urban voters of Milwaukee. That could leave the Democratic race to be decided elsewhere, so watch how the candidates do along the Minnesota border and in the Green Bay area.
Heading into the Wisconsin vote, Trump had won 47 percent of all delegates awarded so far, and he needed to win 55 percent of the remaining delegates to claim the nomination before the primary season ends. Size up how those percentages shift by end of the night to get a better idea of the odds of a contested Republican convention. With Cruz showing strength in Wisconsin, Trump could well have an even narrower path to clinching the nomination before the July convention.
The delegate math is far more difficult for Sanders, even if he pulls out a win in Wisconsin, where he led in pre-primary polls. Heading into Tuesday’s primary, Sanders needed to win 67 percent of the remaining Democratic delegates and uncommitted superdelegates through June to be able to clinch the Democratic nomination. So far he’s won 37 percent.
The Texas senator insists he still has a “clear path” to winning the 1,237 delegates needed to claim the Republican nomination. But even a Wisconsin win wouldn’t do much to alter his daunting task. Heading into the Wisconsin primary, Trump had 737 delegates and Cruz 475. Expect Cruz to look past the delegate numbers and focus on Trump’s recent policy stumbles. “The last two weeks Donald Trump has gotten his rear end whipped, over and over and over again,” Cruz said on the eve of Wisconsin’s vote.
CLINTON’S SOFT SPOTS
Clinton’s lead in the Democratic delegate count is commanding, but Wisconsin exit polls will show whether she’s making progress winning over more younger and white working-class voters, soft spots so far for her campaign. Both are important segments of the Democratic coalition that she’ll need to energize for a strong general election showing.
Watch how the Ohio governor explains his insistence on hanging in there when he entered Wisconsin with just 143 delegates. Kasich’s been sketching a scenario in which the party turns to him at a contested convention, and says it’s a sign of his growing strength that his opponents are “starting to trash me.” As for Trump’s call for him to drop out, Kasich says that’s nothing more than whining.
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