Next Tuesday’s Wisconsin presidential primary is a crucial lifeline for Republicans desperate to stop Donald Trump’s march to their party’s nomination.
One of his worst weeks of the 2016 campaign is colliding with a state sceptical of his politics.
A big loss there for Trump would greatly reduce his chances of securing the delegates he needs to clinch the Republican nomination before next July’s national convention. It could also offer hope to rival Ted Cruz, and to outside groups that see Trump as a threat to the party.
“I think the whole country is looking to Wisconsin, right now, to make a choice in this race, and I think the choice Wisconsin makes is going to have repercussions for a long time to come,” Cruz said.
Trump’s view is rosier: “If we win Wisconsin, it’s pretty much over.” But nothing has gone right for him since Wisconsin stepped into the primary spotlight. Even before he arrived, Trump was skewered in interviews with a trio of Wisconsin’s influential conservative talk-radio hosts. On Tuesday, just hours before his first campaign stop, Wisconsin’s two-term governor, Scott Walker, threw his support behind Cruz, of Texas.
Much of the trouble that followed was of the Trump campaign’s own making. Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, got slapped with a charge of simple battery for an altercation with a reporter. Then Trump rowed back on his assertion that women should be punished for getting abortions, a comment that had united both sides of the abortion debate against him.
“As soon as he stepped foot in Wisconsin, the mask finally came off,” said Jim Steineke, the Republican majority leader in the Wisconsin Assembly. “Part of it is just the Wisconsin nice. We don’t take too kindly to people who act the way Donald Trump acts.”
Republican voter, Linda Ruddy, a 48-year-old dental hygienist, from Oshkosh, agreed. “He’s rude. He’s arrogant. He’s a loose cannon. He’s insulting to women,” Ruddy said.
A poll run by Marquette University Law School had shown Trump holding steady, at 30%, in Wisconsin, which had given him a lead in the state last month. But the latest survey, this week, showed Cruz surging past the real estate mogul, topping him by 10 points.
“Everybody is going to want to write that he got taken down,” Cruz campaign manager, Jeff Roe, said of Trump. “The fact is he didn’t get taken down. The fact is that we’re consolidating.”
If Cruz sweeps all the delegates in Wisconsin, Trump will need to win 57% of the remaining delegates, in other states, to collect the 1,237 he needs to clinch the nomination. So far, he has won 48% of all delegates.
Wisconsin offers 42, putting it in the middle of the pack of primary prizes. But the state’s stature in Republican politics and its position on the calendar — no other state votes until April 19 — have elevated its importance. Though the state has voted for Democrats in the past several presidential elections, it boasts prominent Republican national party leaders, including Walker, House Speaker Paul Ryan and National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus.
Anti-Trump groups say they have benefited from the primary calendar. Super PACs and rival campaigns have focused narrowly on Wisconsin for nearly two weeks. Planned Parenthood, and Priorities USA, two groups working to elect Hillary Clinton, have teamed up for their first anti-Trump advertisement of the election year, a 30-second spot, playing on websites, that features Trump’s abortion comment.
“When it comes to women, the Republican front-runner is demeaning, insulting, and dangerous,” the ad reads.
Clinton is hardly silent. She said: “Donald Trump is showing us exactly who he is and we should believe him. But let’s remember this: All the Republican candidates want to make abortion illegal.”
Trump’s rival candidates, and outside groups opposing him, are to spend a combined $3.8m in advertising in the state. That includes $1.7m from Our Principles and Club for Growth Action, a conservative group that has endorsed Cruz.
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