MILWAUKEE (AP) — Republican Ted Cruz captured a crucial victory Tuesday in Wisconsin, a significant step in his efforts to block front-runner Donald Trump’s path to the presidential nomination and push the GOP contest toward a rare convention fight. In the Democratic race, Bernie Sanders hoped to extend his string of victories over front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s defeat came amid one of his worst periods of his campaign, a brutal stretch that highlighted his weaknesses with women and raised questions about his policy depth. While the billionaire businessman still leads the Republican field, Cruz and other anti-Trump forces hope Wisconsin marks a turning point in the chaotic GOP nominating contest.
Exit polls in the state underscored the concerns about Trump that are surging through some corners of the Republican Party. Nearly 4 in 10 GOP voters in Wisconsin said they were scared about what Trump would do as president.
For Sanders, Wisconsin was favorable territory, with an overwhelming white electorate and liberal pockets of voters. A victory would give the Vermont senator a burst of momentum, but still leave him trailing Clinton in the delegate count.
Even if Sanders wins in Wisconsin, he’s unlikely to gain much ground. Because Democrats award delegates proportionally, a narrow victory by either candidate on Tuesday would mean that both Sanders and Clinton would get a similar number of delegates.
Heading into Tuesday’s voting, Clinton had 1,243 delegates to Sanders’ 980 based on primaries and caucuses. When including superdelegates, the party officials who can back any candidate, Clinton holds a much wider lead — 1,712 to Sanders’ 1,011. It takes 2,383 delegates to win the Democratic nomination.
Clinton’s campaign has cast her lead as nearly insurmountable. Yet Sanders’ continued presence in the race has become an irritant for the former secretary of state, keeping her from turning her attention to the general election.
According to exit polls, Sanders has excited voters in Wisconsin, with more than half of Democratic primary-goers saying the senator inspires them more about the future of the country. But three-quarters of Democratic voters say Clinton has realistic policies.
The exit polls were conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and television networks.
Trump has battled a series of campaign controversies in the lead-up to Wisconsin, including his campaign manager’s legal problems following an altercation with a female reporter and his own awkward stumbles in clarifying his views on abortion. Wisconsin’s Republican establishment, including Gov. Scott Walker, has also campaigned aggressively against the businessman.
Still, Trump made a spirited final push in the state and predicted a “really, really big victory.”
Complicating the primary landscape for both Cruz and Trump is the continuing candidacy of John Kasich. The Ohio governor’s only victory has come in his home state, but he’s still picking up delegates that would otherwise help Trump inch closer to the nomination or help Cruz catch up.
If Cruz wins all of Wisconsin’s 42 delegates, Trump would need to win 57 percent of those remaining to clinch the GOP nomination before the July convention. So far, Trump has won 48 percent of the delegates awarded.
To win a prolonged convention fight, a candidate would need support from the individuals selected as delegates. The process of selecting those delegates is tedious, and will test the mettle of Trump’s slim campaign operation.
Cruz prevailed in an early organizational test in North Dakota, scooping up endorsements from delegates who were selected at the party’s state convention over the weekend. While all 28 of the state’s delegates go to the national convention as free agents, 10 said in interviews that they were committed to Cruz. None has so far endorsed Trump.
Despite the concern among some Wisconsin Republicans about Trump becoming president, nearly 6 in 10 GOP voters there said the party should nominate the candidate with the most support in the primaries, which so far would be Trump. Even among voters who favored Cruz, 4 in 10 said the candidate with the most support going into the convention should be the party’s nominee.