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

With Wisconsin primary looming, Walker says Cruz has smarts, organization to beat Trump
Gov. Scott Walker, addressing a bear hunter convention in Rothschild, Wis., said Ted Cruz's political organization will help him secure more delegates than Donald Trump to win the Republican presidential nomination. (Michael Finnegan / Los Angeles Times)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker suggested Saturday that Ted Cruz's success in outmaneuvering GOP front-runner Donald Trump in internal battles for Republican convention delegates makes him a stronger candidate in fall battleground states like Florida and Ohio.

"If you want to defeat Hillary Clinton, you need to have somebody who has an organization," Walker told reporters at a bear hunters convention in this small central Wisconsin town, a few hours before Trump was scheduled to arrive for a rally.

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In a clear reference to Trump's trouble matching Cruz in the arcane but potentially decisive fights among party insiders for delegates, Walker said, "When you start to see some of the weaknesses of some of the campaigns that really don't have real strong grass-roots organizations – that's what it takes to win in a state like Wisconsin."

In Wisconsin, Ohio and other states with a history of close presidential votes, an army of volunteers knocking on neighbors' doors and getting people to the polls is crucial, the two-term Republican governor argued.

Walker, who survived a costly recall election in 2012 and was reelected two years later, has put his substantial political operation to work for Cruz in Wisconsin's GOP presidential primary on Tuesday.

A Marquette University Law School poll released this week found Trump running 10 percentage points behind the Texas senator.

A Wisconsin loss for Trump would embolden Republican forces trying to stop the New York billionaire from winning the 1,237 delegates he needs to capture the GOP nomination without a contested party convention in Cleveland in July.

Barry Bennett, a Trump campaign senior advisor, used an epithet to dismiss Walker's remarks as unfounded.

"Our organization has produced 2 million more votes than anybody else's," he said, referring to the once-crowded Republican field.

Trump currently has 736 delegates, compared with 463 for Cruz and 143 for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

But in some states where Trump won a primary or caucus vote, he could face a threat if he doesn't win the nomination on the first ballot.

In those states, delegates who must vote for him on the convention's first nomination ballot can abandon him and back Cruz or another candidate on subsequent ballots.

"Even if it's on the second ballot, I think Ted Cruz is in an excellent position to obtain the 1,237 delegate votes that are required," Walker said.

In Milwaukee on Tuesday, Trump voiced frustration that although he won the Louisiana primary, he might wind up with fewer delegates than Cruz, whose local troops prevailed in an obscure committee brawl.

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"I call it bad politics," Trump told CNN. "When somebody goes in and wins the election and gets less delegates than the guy that lost, I don't think that's right."

In Tennessee, another state that Trump won, his loyalists were fighting at a party gathering Saturday to block a committee of insiders from appointing convention delegates who would not be loyal to Trump after their first vote.

Dan Scavino, Trump's social media director, circulated a flier on Twitter, saying: "We won the votes. They are trying to steal them."

Bennett, the campaign advisor, said members of Tennessee's GOP establishment had "locked themselves in a private room" as Trump supporters were insisting the candidate should be able to choose his own delegates.

"We want true Trump supporters as our delegates," he said.

For news of the presidential campaign follow @finneganLAT on Twitter.

For more political coverage, go to www.latimes.com/politics.

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