Will Wisconsin halt Trump’s march to the nomination? Here are 5 things to watch in the primary

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at campaign rally in a hangar at the Bong Airport in Superior, Wis.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at campaign rally in a hangar at the Bong Airport in Superior, Wis.

(Jim Mone / Associated Press)

After a two-week respite, balloting resumes Tuesday in the presidential campaign with a high-stakes primary in Wisconsin, testing the two front-runners, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, and attempts to thwart or at least slow down the march to their respective party nominations.

Of the two, the GOP contest may be the more significant, given the considerably greater likelihood of the Republican fight going all the way to the floor of this summer’s convention. That, however, means stopping Trump short of the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch beforehand; opponents see Wisconsin as crucial to that effort.

Here are five things to watch as Cheeseheads weigh in:

Has Trump lost his Teflon coating?


Up to now, nothing has seemed to stick to the Manhattan businessman — at least as far as a plurality of GOP voters are concerned. Just about every Tuesday has brought a sort of ritual cleansing: A controversy would erupt — over violence at Trump rallies or some outrageous statement — and he would win the next scheduled primary. Like that, the dark clouds went away.

But with no voting since March 22, serial events — the arrest of Trump’s campaign manager for allegedly grabbing a reporter, his my-wife-is-prettier-than-yours goading of rival Ted Cruz, Trump’s back-and-forth on whether a woman should be punished for having an abortion — have piled up and gained cumulative force.

A victory in Wisconsin would be the ultimate vindication, especially because most polls give Texas Sen. Cruz a comfortable lead and virtually the entire state GOP establishment is arrayed against Trump.


Gov. John Kasich has won nowhere but his home state of Ohio. He trails far behind Trump and Cruz in the delegate count, without a possible way to win the nomination short of a contested convention. But to get there with a reasonable chance of prevailing, he needs more than a series of third-place finishes — especially distant third-place finishes.

Under Wisconsin’s winner-takes-most system for awarding delegates, Kasich is facing the possibility of another shutout Tuesday, which won’t help as he looks ahead to the New York primary in two weeks and, beyond that, a key contest April 26 in Pennsylvania, where Kasich was born.


Trump and Cruz are pressuring Kasich to quit the race, each convinced they would benefit the most from a one-on-one contest. Kasich, not surprisingly, is ignoring them. But to stay relevant, he needs to do more than show up and talk about his strength in a theoretical fall campaign against Clinton.

MORE: Get our best stories in your Facebook feed >>

Size matters

Winning Wisconsin would give a big boost to Bernie Sanders. But victory alone isn’t enough to change the fundamental direction of the Democratic race.

The Vermont senator needs to win big here and in other states to close Clinton’s sizable delegate lead. That’s because of the proportional way that Democrats award their delegates, which allows Clinton to keep building her advantage as long as she doesn’t get blown out in too many states.

If Sanders fails to win more pledged delegates than Clinton by the end of the primary season, it would be exceedingly difficult for him to persuade superdelegates — the 712 elected officials and party leaders who are free to support any candidate they choose — to offer their allegiance to him.

Tone matters


Even as Sanders faces an increasingly narrow path to the nomination, he shows no signs of shrinking from the fight with Clinton.

He continues to demand the release the transcripts of paid speeches she delivered to Wall Street banks and has begun questioning her acceptance of donations from people connected to oil and gas companies. (Sanders has also taken money from the industry but not as much.)

Meanwhile, a clearly aggrieved Clinton has accused Sanders of lying about her record and persistently hammered him for not supporting stronger gun controls.

Although both candidates have bragged that their contest is higher-minded than the Republican fracas, the sniping could make for a slam-bang finish to the Democratic primary. Watch the tone each sets in postelection appearances.

The road to New York

Compared with the rest of the rapid-fire primary calendar, it’s a long road from Wisconsin to New York, which votes on April 19 and offers a hefty 291 delegates of the 2,383 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination. The pause is broken only by Wyoming’s caucus, which offers a mere 18 delegates.


That means the outcome in Wisconsin will be important in determining the campaign narrative going forward, with one candidate enjoying an important momentum boost and the other forced to explain away a second-place finish.

Right now Clinton is leading the polls in New York, where she resides and was twice elected to the U.S. Senate. But the space between contests means there’s plenty of time for sentiments to shift, starting as soon as the results come in from Wisconsin.

Barabak reported from San Francisco and Megerian from Milwaukee.

Twitter: @markzbarabak


Twitter: @ChrisMegerian


With Wisconsin primary looming, Walker says Cruz has smarts, organization to beat Trump

On a big day for minimum-wage laws, Hillary Clinton, not Bernie Sanders, grabs the spotlight

Bill Clinton: California has been good to my family