Chicago/Columbus: Texas senator Ted Cruz beat billionaire Donald Trump in Wisconsin’s Republican presidential primary on Tuesday, embarrassing the front-runner, extending an increasingly bitter nomination fight and boosting the odds of a contested national convention in July.
In the Democratic race, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders claimed a victory over Hillary Clinton, extending a string of recent victories.
Both of the underdogs went into the Wisconsin balloting looking to slow the front-runners before the race heads later this month to New York, the home of both Trump and Clinton.
“Cruz’s victory means that the race will almost certainly go all the way to Cleveland, with a front-runner, perhaps, but no nominee-apparent," said Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and former spokesman for the Republican National Committee. “The Wisconsin results show how much damage Trump has done to himself in recent weeks. Now, he’ll need New York to be his ’firewall,’ a word we’ve never before used with Trump."
In his victory speech, Cruz called Wisconsin a marker for a changed race.
“Tonight is a turning point," he said in Milwaukee. “It is a rallying cry. It is a call from the hard-working people of Wisconsin to the people of America. We have a choice, a real choice."
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement that the candidate had “withstood the onslaught of the establishment yet again," and calling Cruz a “Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump."
The outcome marked perhaps the most consequential loss for Trump since Cruz beat him in the 1 February Iowa caucuses that started the nomination race. If Trump is only able to win a few of Wisconsin’s 42 delegates, it could seriously damage his prospects for surpassing the threshold to win the nomination outright—1,237—while also diminishing his pitch as the party’s consensus candidate.
Although Sanders has now extended his winning streak in Democratic contests to six, he still confronts a daunting path to catching Clinton, the former secretary of state, in the delegate race by the time the last primaries are done in June.
With about half of precincts reporting, Cruz had 51% of the vote to Trump’s 32%. Ohio governor John Kasich, the other Republican still in the race, had 14%.
Whether Cruz’s victory amounts to a brief high for him and the forces aligning to block Trump’s nomination bid, or something more lasting, won’t be determined until the race moves to primaries later this month in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and other northeast states. Either way, the loss robbed Trump of momentum as the party’s presidential nomination race extends further down the road.
In the Republican primary, Wisconsin awards three delegates to the winner of each of its eight congressional districts, while the statewide winner gets an additional 18 delegates. Trump led with 737 delegates ahead of Tuesday’s voting, according to Associated Press estimates, followed by Cruz with 475 and Kasich at 143.
New York next
Groups aligned to stop Trump targeted Wisconsin as a proving ground because it’s the only Republican primary on the calendar before New York votes on 19 April. The real estate mogul has led in early polling in New York and Pennsylvania, the two biggest delegate prizes this month.
Trump entered Tuesday’s balloting in the unusual position of underdog, trailing in Wisconsin polls and after suffering through the bumpiest two weeks of his presidential campaign after mocking his chief rival’s wife, calling for punishment of women who have illegal abortions and standing by a campaign manager charged with misdemeanor battery.
Potentially reflecting the damage he’d done to his candidacy in recent weeks, Trump was beaten badly by Cruz among women voters in Wisconsin, exit polls published by CNN showed. The senator won 49% of the group’s vote, compared to 34% for the businessman.
That was far worse than Trump did in Michigan’s 8 March primary, where he tied Cruz for votes from women. The two states share some demographic and economic characteristics.
The Democratic primary was closer with Sanders holding a lead of 55% to Clinton’s 45% with half of precincts reporting.
Sanders said during a rally Tuesday night in Wyoming, where Democrats hold caucuses on Saturday, that he thinks he can win there and in New York two weeks from now.
“This campaign is giving energy and enthusiasm to millions of Americans," Sanders said. “The facts are pretty clear: We have a path toward victory, a path toward the White House."
Clinton congratulated Sanders via Twitter and sought to rally her supporters for the primaries ahead: “To all the voters and volunteers who poured your hearts into this campaign: Forward! -H"
Early exit polls showed broad support for Sanders in Wisconsin. He won 73% voters under age 45, 62% of men and 71% of independents, according to figures published by CNN. Clinton won 56% of those 45 and older and 74% of black voters, the network said.
Sanders captured 58% of whites and all income and education groups except those with a high school degree or less, exit polls showed.
The Vermont senator campaigned hard in Wisconsin, which has a deep progressive tradition where any voter can take a Democratic ballot and first-time voters can register and cast ballots on primary day. During the week ahead of the primary, the $2.1 million Sanders spent on broadcast television ads in Wisconsin was about twice as much as Clinton, according to estimates from Kantar Media’s CMAG. He also held 15 events there since 26 March while Clinton moved on to New York in recent days.
The Clinton campaign had sought to lower expectations about the outcome in Wisconsin, where polls showed Sanders leading before the vote. Because delegates are awarded proportionally, Sanders won’t make a significant dent in Clinton’s commanding lead, the campaign said.
Heading into Tuesday’s vote, Clinton had a lead in pledged delegates of 1,243 to 980, according to an Associated Press tally. That advantage was 1,712 to 1,011 counting superdelegates, the party officials and leaders who are free to change their support, the AP said. To win the nomination, 2,383 delegates are needed. Bloomberg