Trump and Cruz making final pitches to Wisconsin voters
Sanders campaigning in Wisconsin, Clinton in New York
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz made spirited final pitches Monday to Wisconsin voters, who will cast ballots Tuesday in a Republican primary that both consider a key step in the race for president.
After Tuesday, there's a two-week lull before the next important voting, in New York.
Trump is facing pressure on multiple fronts following a difficult week marked by his controversial comments, reversals and rare moments of contrition. While his past remarks on topics like Mexican immigrants have drawn a backlash, even he appeared to recognize the damage caused by a series of missteps in the lead-up to the Wisconsin primary.
Those included re-tweeting an unflattering photo of Cruz's wife and a series of contradictory comments on abortion that managed to draw condemnation from both abortion rights activists and opponents.
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While Trump is the only Republican with a realistic path to clinching the nomination ahead of the Republican convention, a big loss in Wisconsin would greatly reduce the billionaire real estate mogul's chances of reaching the needed 1,237 delegates before then. A big win for Trump would give him more room for error down the stretch.
In U.S. primaries voters select delegates pledged to candidates who then vote at the parties' national conventions over the summer.
On the Democratic side, polls show Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leading Hillary Clinton, but not by a wide enough margin to make a significant reduction in her overall delegate lead. Sanders hopes that a win in Wisconsin will build more momentum against Clinton heading into the New York primary. Sanders has won five of the past six states to hold contests.
Big spending on anti-Trump ads
In Wisconsin, Trump has been battered by negative ads. The state's top Republican advertiser has been Our Principles PAC, which pumped almost $1.3 million into anti-Trump ads. The Club for Growth, which has endorsed Cruz, is spending $800,000 on ads that promote voting for the Texas senator — not Ohio Gov. John Kasich — as the best way to ensure a Trump defeat.
Also, the state's Republican establishment, including Gov. Scott Walker and some of its most influential conservative talk radio hosts, have lined up to support Cruz. Polls show Cruz, an uncompromising conservative, with a lead in Wisconsin.
At the same time, Trump's campaign has been outmaneuvered by Cruz in some early voting states where the campaigns are working to ensure that the delegates who attend the convention this summer are loyal to them.
In North Dakota, Cruz's team, for instance, has been scooping up endorsements from delegates to the national convention who were selected at the party's state convention over the weekend.
And while Trump won Tennessee's March 1 primary, picking up 33 delegates, his supporters have complained that some Trump delegates selected by the state executive committee weren't actually supporters. They'll have to vote for Trump on the first two ballots at the convention, but they can vote as they wish on important procedural matters, including the party platform and the rules for the convention.
Trump, who has repeatedly bashed the delegate selection process as "crooked" and "unfair," acknowledged his frustrations on CBS television on Sunday.
"I think there's a real legal consequence to winning a state and not getting as many delegates," Trump said.
On the campaign trail, both he and Cruz were optimistic.
"I really believe tomorrow we're going to have a very, very big victory," the billionaire businessman said at a stop in LaCrosse. Later, in a frigid hangar at the Richard I. Bong airport in Superior, Trump joked about predictions of his demise from pundits.
"You know how many times I've been given the end? I've been given the last rights, how many times? Like 10? Every week, it's the end of Trump," he said.
Cruz predicts 'terrific victory'
Cruz's confidence was growing, too. He predicted a "terrific victory" during the taping of a town hall in Madison that was broadcast Monday night on Fox News. Cruz also discounted any possibility of someone other than Trump or him winning the nomination. Some Republican party leaders, concerned that both Trump and Cruz might fare poorly in the November election, have expressed hope that a contested convention might nominate a non-candidate like House Speaker Paul Ryan.
"This fevered pipe dream of Washington that at the convention they will parachute in some white knight who will save the Washington establishment, it is nothing less than a pipe dream," Cruz told reporters. "It ain't going to happen. If it did, the people would quite rightly revolt."
The Democratic contest has taken a more contentious turn in recent weeks, as the candidates turn their focus to what's expected to be a drag-out fight ahead of the New York primary.
On Monday, Sanders campaigned in Wisconsin, while Clinton was in New York, which is a must-win state for her. Clinton represented New York in the Senate, while Sanders was born in Brooklyn. The two candidates agreed to hold a debate on April 14 in Brooklyn.
At a United Auto Workers union headquarters in Janesville, Sanders criticized Gov. Walker as being anti-union and said, "In a sense what this campaign is about is building on what the union movement has done." In New York City, Clinton campaigned alongside Gov. Andrew Cuomo, praising union-led efforts to that led to legislation that will gradually raise the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour and predicting that that higher level would "sweep" the nation.