Even Donald Trump conceded he hasn’t had a good few weeks on the campaign trail. His lucked isn’t expected to change Tuesday.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz marches into Wisconsin’s GOP presidential primary as a favorite, boosted by vociferous support from local Republicans and the newfound conviction among national party big-wigs that he’s their last hope to stop Trump.
Cruz sports a small but comfortable advantage over Trump in most polls. Wisconsin’s most reputable survey, the Marquette Law School Poll, found him topping the New York billionaire by 10 points , 40 percent to 30 percent.
“Others outside of the state are looking to Wisconsin saying, ‘We need you guys to plant the flag and pivot away from Trump and to Cruz,” said Matt Batzel, national executive director of American Majority, a Wisconsin-based conservative group that trains activists. “And this is our last hope. If Wisconsin doesn’t do it, the math just becomes impossible.”
The other candidate in the three-man race, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, was a distant third.
Cruz supporters hope the Badger State race is an inflection point in the campaign — the moment when Trump’s support finally collapses after a fresh torrent of criticism from Republican and conservative leaders. In recent weeks, Trump has drawn fire for suggesting that women who receive an abortion should be punished and continuing attacks on his rival’s wife, Heidi. Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski , was also arrested on charges that he assaulted a reporter.
Cruz has benefited from endorsements from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the support of the state’s conservative talk radio, which has been a harsh critic of Trump. His campaign has also built the kind of well-organized operation in Wisconsin that helped him in places like Iowa, taking advantage of the fact that the state’s primary is the first major contest of the GOP presidential primary in two weeks.
Of course, it’s not the first time anti-Trump Republicans have believed that the New York billionaire was unraveling. After a disappointing finish in Iowa, Trump won a string of overwhelming victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to secure a delegate lead that he still maintains. He followed underwhelming returns in places like Alaska and Kansas with strong wins in Michigan, Florida and Arizona.
Even if Trump loses in Wisconsin, more favorable terrain in New York and Pennsylvania awaits in the coming weeks. He has early leads in both, according to polls.
Trump has 736 delegates, according to a tally from the Associated Press, more than the combined haul of Cruz and Kasich. They have 463 and 143, respectively. To clinch the GOP nomination, a candidate needs 1,237 delegates.
Wisconsin will award 42 delegates on Tuesday. The statewide winner will receive 18 of them, while winners of each of the state’s eight congressional districts will earn three each.
Delegates from Wisconsin are bound to their candidate until they are released, a state GOP official said, or the candidate receives less than one-third of the vote on a ballot for the nomination.
The Democratic race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will also continue Tuesday, with the senator from Vermont expected to win. The state’s base of liberal activists and union households, coupled with its penchant for electing unconventional nominees, makes it prime turf for Sanders, say strategists.
“This is a state that typically bucks the larger national trends and likes to put people who don’t toe party line into office,” said Thad Nation, a Milwaukee-based Democratic strategist.
Clinton still has a large edge in pledged delegates, an advantage most analysts consider close to insurmountable for Sanders. Both campaigns are preparing for a major showdown in New York’s April 19 primary.