Wisconsin voters said no way to the Democratic and Republican Parties’ presidential frontrunners Tuesday, giving big wins to Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz and injecting frustration and uncertainty into the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
For Sanders, it was his sixth straight victory since March 22’s problem-plagued Arizona primary, where Clinton was deemed the winner but voters faced so many impediments that the Justice Department is investigating. His victory in Wisconsin, beating Clinton 56.4 percent to 43.4 percent with 97 percent of precincts reporting, comes after winning Washington, Hawaii, Alaska, Utah and Idaho.
“Moments ago the news networks called another state for our political revolution, and it’s a big one: Wisconsin,” wrote Sanders in an e-mail with less than one-quarter of the votes tallied. “The corporate media and political establishment keep counting us out, but we keep winning states and doing so by large margins. If we can keep this up, we’re going to shock them all and win this nomination.”
A little while later, he told supporters in Wyoming, which will caucus on Saturday, “We will win in November if there is a large voter turnout. This campaign is giving energy and enthusiasm to millions of Americans… I think the people of this country are ready for a political revolution, and if you ignore what you hear in the corporate media, the facts are pretty clear: we have a path to victory and to the White House.”
Earlier Tuesday, Clinton’s campaign was telling its supporters that Sanders was expected to win and started attacking him on several fronts: a spokeswoman saying his visit with the New York Daily News editorial board this week showed that he had no idea how to accomplish his lofty goals. Campaign manager Robby Mook said his campaign knew it was losing where it counted — accumulating delegates — and thus was sounding something like Trump: posturing the delegate math doesn’t matter.
“It seems the Sanders campaign is finally seeing the writing on the wall: Hillary has won more votes AND more pledged delegates in this election — her lead in both is nearly insurmountable,” Mook said in an e-mail blast. “So this morning, Bernie’s campaign manager claimed the convention could be an “open convention,” and declared they’re going to try and flip delegates’ votes, overturning the will of the voters.”
As the 2016 nominating season lurches from state to state, you can expect hyperbole from all sides. Sanders obviously has been gaining momentum. But number-crunchers like Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com who are postulating pathways to the nomination are saying that Sanders will not beat Clinton unless he wins at least 57 percent of the delegates in the remaining contests.
It appears he hovered a sliver under that threshold on Tuesday, winning 56.4 percent of the vote based on 97 percent of precincts reporting, and showing deeper and wider appeal than many Clinton backers care to acknowledge — such as almost tying her in Milwaukee, a city with a large non-white population, and continuing to win among young voters in university towns like Madison.
The next Democratic state to vote is Wyoming, which will caucus on Saturday, April 9, a format where Sanders more often than not has beaten Clinton. But then the race jumps to a major new orbit, with New York holding its delegate rich primary on April 19. Two-hundred and ninety-one delegates are at stake, compared to 72 in Wisconsin and 18 in Wyoming. A week later, more mid-Atlantic states vote, including Pennsylvania with 210 delegates, Maryland with 118 and Connecticut with 70.
But all eyes will be on New York, which has become a must-win state for Clinton — not because she is not leading to get the 2,383 delegates needed to win — but because is she loses the state where she was a U.S. Senator and now calls home, it will be a devastating symbolic blow to her campaign by underscoring her weakness as a national candidate.
After Tuesday’s vote, the New York Times estimated that Clinton had 1,271 pledged delegates, compared to 1,024 for Sanders, a difference of 247 delegates. That does not include the Party’s so-called super-delegates, which accounts for one-sixth of all the delegates and are its top officeholders and state party officials across the country.
On the GOP side, Ted Cruz won a decisive victory, gathering 50 percent of the vote, compared to 33 percent for Donald Trump and 15 percent for John Kasich. Trump was not favored to win Wisconsin, where that state’s right-wing establishment — from Gov. Scott Walker who dropped out of the presidential race months ago and backed Cruz, to many AM talk radio hosts, to various super PACs fueled by top mainstream donors — viciously attacked him.
Trump did not speak on Tuesday, but in a written statement attacked Republican Party bosses, the anti-Trump super PACs, and called Cruz “worse than a puppet” for being used to steal the nomination from him. While Trump is leading on the GOP side with delegates, the presence of Cruz and Kasich is increasingly raising the prospect that he won’t cross the nominating threshold of 1,237 delegates and the party will have a contested national nominating convention — the party’s first since 1948.
Trump may be blaming the GOP establishment and his competition for an increasingly frustrating campaign, but according to Wisconsin exit poll results broadcast on CNN, an astounding 38 percent of Republicans said they were worried about a Trump presidency. They also noted how exit polls said Clinton’s campaign has still not managed to excite growing numbers of Democratic voters. But if these presumed frontrunners win their party’s nomination — or Sanders manages to take it, fear of Trump may provoke many Americans to vote Democratic.