WISCONSIN: Is Trump the Underdog in the Badger State?

Polls are reading Cruz, but does this reflect how the rest of the nation feels? Give us your thoughts below.

Wisconsin voters went to the polls Tuesday to decide whether Donald Trump’s latest self-inflicted wounds are deep enough to deny him a win in the state’s Republican primary, and, in turn, to diminish his hopes of winning the presidential nomination.

In the unusual position of underdog, the billionaire faces the referendum after the roughest two-week stretch of his campaign. He saw fallout for 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.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who has led in Wisconsin polling, has been assisted by a growing Republican establishment effort to block Trump from winning the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the nomination.

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, while also diminishing his pitch as the party’s consensus candidate.

The groups that aligned to stop Trump targeted Wisconsin as a proving ground because it’s the only GOP primary on the calendar before his home state, New York, votes on April 19. Tripping him up now could change the direction of a series of contests in the Northeast, including Pennsylvania and New York, where Trump is favored.

Whether the anti-Trump effort, which included attacks from outside groups and local conservative radio hosts, has found a formula for success remains to be seen.

Arguably the nation’s most politically polarized state, Wisconsin has been a unique hotbed of Republican activism since the 2010 election of Governor Scott Walker and the local and statewide recall elections that followed, divisive events that acted to help organize and unify Republicans.

“The establishment has been lined up against Donald Trump for months, and he’s repeatedly beat them,” said Rick Wiley, a former executive director of the state’s Republican Party who managed Walker’s failed presidential bid. “But the establishment in Wisconsin is different. They’ve fought battles together since 2010 and banded together to get behind Ted Cruz.”

Demographic Opportunity

On the Democratic side, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is hoping strong turnout among college students and union workers might propel him to a win that would change the narrative that it’s only a matter of time before Hillary Clinton secures the nomination.

At his final rally before Tuesday’s vote, Sanders told an enthusiastic crowd of about 2,400 in Milwaukee that he’ll win if there is record-breaking turnout. He’s called Clinton “nervous” and “already under a lot of pressure” to win.

Among likely Democratic primary voters, Sanders held a 49 percent to 45 percent edge over Clinton, with 6 percent undecided, according to a Marquette Law School poll released last week.

A Sanders loss in Wisconsin, a state with a deep populist tradition where Clinton was badly beaten in the 2008 primary, would be a major blow to his underdog bid. A win, like his surprise victory in Michigan on March 8, would give him much-needed momentum heading into New York’s primary.

After the polls close at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, the results will say much about how long the nomination fights for both parties may drag on. For Republicans, the outcome will also offer insight into the chances of a rare contested national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in July.

The state’s electorate—heavily white and blue-collar—seems somewhat favorable for Trump, who said the race would be “over” if he did well there. But he acknowledged having a difficult week and boosted his schedule in the state during the closing days.

“I think we’re going to have a great day,” Trump said Tuesday on MSNBC during a stop in suburban Milwaukee, brushing off the previous week’s struggles. “I’ve had worse weeks on the campaign.”

Trump’s campaign says its manager, Corey Lewandowski, is innocent of the battery charge, which stemmed from an incident with a female reporter at a press conference. Asked by a Wisconsin woman on Fox News on Tuesday how he would “change and get the support of more women,” Trump said his policies on issues including border security attract female voters who want “protection.” He’s now proposing funding a border wall by blocking remittances until the Mexican government pays.

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