MADISON, Wis., April 5 (UPI) — It’s April.
Roughly three-fifths of the 56 U.S. states and territories have voted in the presidential primary already.
This is when the front-runners are supposed to start closing the sale — when the party faithful are supposed to start rallying around their nominees.
If polls in Wisconsin, which votes Tuesday, are any indication, voters there couldn’t care less.
Front-runners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appear headed for defeat to their long-shot rivals, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Victories for Sanders and Cruz could breathe new life into both the Democratic and Republican campaigns and upend the narrative that Clinton and Trump are certain to be their parties’ nominees.
No matter what happens Tuesday, the front-runners will still leave the Badger State with a lead in delegates and by far the best chance of winning the nomination. But the race in Wisconsin could also prove a tipping point for Sanders and Cruz, who have spent most of the campaign so far trying to convince people that they do, in fact, have a shot.
Cruz looks to play keep-away
For Cruz, Wisconsin is all about the delegate math. His own path toward the nomination is all but closed. Even if he sweeps Wisconsin’s 42 delegates, he would still need to win about 81 percent of the remaining delegates to capture the GOP nomination outright.
As Cruz has pointed out numerous times when asked about his chances of reaching 1,237 delegates, he does not need to win 81 percent of the vote down the home stretch, only enough to rattle off a string of victories in nearly all of the remaining states.
That still seems unlikely, given the race after Wisconsin pivots to what has been friendly turf for Trump in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. That makes Wisconsin a must-win state for Cruz.
However, it could be the beginning of Cruz’s march to deny Trump his own 1,237 delegates and wage a fight on the floor of the convention in Cleveland, arguing Trump is too disliked by general election voters to give him the nomination.
If Trump loses all 42 delegates in Wisconsin, which is possible, though not all that likely given how the state awards its delegates, he would need to win about 55 percent of the remaining delegates to capture the nomination outright.
For both sides in Wisconsin, the candidate who wins the statewide vote will take about half the delegates. The other half are apportioned according to who wins each of the state’s eight congressional districts.
For Trump, the Wisconsin vote comes after what has roundly been described as his worst week of the campaign. The bad news kept piling up: First, his campaign manager was charged with misdemeanor battery for allegedly manhandling a female reporter at a press conference. Then Trump created an unforced error of his own, badly bungling an answer on abortion by implying women should be “punished” for seeking illegal abortions. He later reversed himself and said the people performing the procedures should be punished, not the women who seek them. Then he appeared to say that Roe vs. Wade should remain the law of the land, but clarified again, that it should only be that way until he is elected.
The string of slip-ups led Saturday Night Live! to quip Trump must be pro-choice after all, because when it comes to abortion positions, he’s made all the choices.
Another Midwest surprise for Sanders?
The last time Sanders scored a game-changing victory, it was in a state, Michigan, that is similar in many respects to Wisconsin. Polls in Michigan were uniformly wrong, predicting Clinton would cruise to an easy win there.
This time around, a Sanders victory would not be a huge surprise. Polling has steadily shown him with a small lead. Sanders hammered Clinton in Michigan over her position on free trade. Wisconsin, which has also suffered industrial job losses over a generation, is potentially ripe for that same message.
Both Clinton and Sanders have delivered unsparing attacks on the state’s controversial governor, Scott Walker, whose anti-union crusade led to a massive political battle and a bitter recall election that Democrats lost.
As much as Clinton and Sanders have fought for a victory in Wisconsin, both have also had one eye on the much larger prize looming: New York, which votes in two weeks.
Clinton and Sanders have both already kicked off their New York campaigns, discarding the traditional political logic that campaigning in the next state before the last one has voted might irk some party loyalists.
Much of the debate over the closing days of the Wisconsin race has not been about trade policy or unions, but whether the two candidates will debate one another — in New York. They have spent the last week trading barbs and pointing fingers in a political blame-game over their failure to schedule a debate sometime before April 19.
They finally agreed Tuesday to debate in Brooklyn on April 14.