Republican Donald Trump has emerged from Wisconsin as a damaged frontrunner following a crushing primary loss to rival Ted Cruz, deepening questions about the billionaire businessman’s presidential qualifications and pushing the Republican Party toward a rare contested convention nomination fight.
Democrat Bernie Sanders also scored a sweeping victory in Wisconsin’s primary that gives him a fresh incentive to keep challenging Hillary Clinton.
But Mr Sanders still lags significantly behind Mrs Clinton in the all-important delegate count.
Both parties were turning their sights toward New York, which offers a massive delegate prize in its April 19 contests.
It marks a homecoming of sorts for several candidates, with Mr Trump, Mrs Clinton and Mr Sanders all touting roots in the state.
Mr Trump, who has dominated the Republican race for months, suddenly finds himself on the defensive as the race moves east.
He has struggled through a series of missteps, including his campaign manager’s legal issues after an altercation with a female reporter and his own awkward explanation of his position on abortion.
Exit polls in Wisconsin highlighted the deep worries about Mr Trump surging through some corners of the Republican Party.
A majority of Republican voters said they are either concerned about or scared of a potential Trump presidency, according to surveys conducted for The Associated Press and television networks.
Mr Cruz has stepped forward as the candidate best positioned to block Mr Trump, though it would likely take a convention battle to accomplish that goal.
An ultraconservative Texas senator with a complicated relationship with Republican leaders, Mr Cruz cast his Wisconsin victory as a “turning point” in the race and urged the party to rally around his candidacy.
“We’ve got the full spectrum of the Republican Party coming together and uniting behind this campaign,” he said.
Mr Trump was unbowed in his defeat. His campaign put out a biting statement accusing Mr Cruz of being “worse than a puppet — he is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr Trump.”
Mr Sanders still trails Mrs Clinton in the pledged delegate count and has so far been unable to persuade super-delegates — the party officials who can back any candidate — to drop their allegiance to the former secretary of state and back his campaign.
At a raucous rally in Wyoming, Mr Sanders cast his victory as a sign of mounting momentum for his campaign.
“With our victory tonight in Wisconsin, we have now won seven out of eight of the last caucuses and primaries,” he declared. Mr Sanders is favoured to win Wyoming’s Democratic caucuses on Saturday, but it offers a small delegate prize.
Wisconsin was favourable territory for Mr Sanders, but in a sign of Mrs Clinton’s low expectations in the midwestern state, she spent Tuesday night at a fundraiser with top donors in New York City.
Mrs Clinton congratulated Mr Sanders on Twitter and thanked her supporters in Wisconsin. “To all the voters and volunteers who poured your hearts into this campaign: Forward!”
Because Democrats award delegates proportionally, Mr Sanders’s victory in Wisconsin did not cut significantly into Mrs Clinton’s lead in the pledged delegate count.
That means Mr Sanders must still win an unlikely 67% of the remaining delegates and uncommitted super-delegates in order to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
The state-by-state nominating contests are choosing delegates who will select the presidential nominees at the parties’ national conventions in July.
Mrs Clinton’s campaign has cast her overall lead as nearly insurmountable.
Yet Mr Sanders’s continued presence in the race has become an irritant for Mrs Clinton, keeping her from turning her attention to the general election.
Mr Trump still has a narrow path to claim the nomination by the end of the primaries on June 7.
But by losing Wisconsin, the real estate mogul has little room for error in upcoming contests.
He must win 57% of the remaining delegates to win the nomination before the convention. So far, he is winning just 46%.
Complicating the primary landscape for both Mr Cruz and Mr Trump is Mr Kasich’s continuing candidacy.
The Ohio governor’s only victory has come in his home state, but he is still picking up delegates that would otherwise help Mr Trump inch closer to the nomination or help Mr Cruz catch up.
Despite the concern among some Wisconsin Republicans about Mr Trump becoming president, nearly six in 10 Republican voters there said the party should nominate the candidate with the most support in the primaries, which so far would be Mr Trump.
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