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National

Wis. Voters Deviate From Front-Runner Tradition; Elect Underdogs

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Wisconsin primary voters have broken their 30-year streak of choosing national front-runners. Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders are the winners of the state's Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's talk about those victories with Democratic pollster Margie Omero of Purple Strategies and Republican pollster Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies. And, Margie, we should inform our listeners first that your husband is working for the Sanders campaign. But you personally are not working for any of these candidates. And, finally, as I bring you in - before we get to the election details - can I ask each of you in one sentence to tell us how significant this double upset is in Wisconsin? Margie?

MARGIE OMERO: Sure, it's particularly important on the Republican side where Trump got a huge rebuke. I think for Sanders it continues the momentum he's had in the last eight contests.

NEIL NEWHOUSE: And from the Republican side - this is Neil. From the Republicans side, a couple weeks ago I thought Trump was on a glide path to the nomination. But it looks like his campaign is likely to fall short in Cleveland. That's the bottom line.

MONTAGNE: OK, well, we'll be talking about that in just moment. But first let's listen to Tamara Keith. She has a look at how the race is shaping up for the Democrats.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: With his win in Wisconsin, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has now won 7 out of the last 8 contests. He's on a roll. And last night he was in Wyoming, which holds Democratic caucuses on Saturday.

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BERNIE SANDERS: I was told that there were about 5,000 people who participated in the last Wyoming caucus. It looks like all of them are here tonight. Thank you.

KEITH: Sanders is favored to win in Wyoming, too. But then the primary calendar shifts to states where, based on past performance, the demographics favor Hillary Clinton. And it has to be said that even with Sanders' string of big wins, Clinton maintains a huge lead in pledged delegates needed to clinch the nomination. But Sanders had a response to that sort of analysis.

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SANDERS: If you ignore what you hear on corporate media, the facts are pretty clear. We have a path toward victory, a path toward the White House.

KEITH: That path requires more wins in much more populous and diverse states than Wisconsin or Wyoming and, says Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver, persuading Democratic Party leaders, so-called superdelegates, to switch their allegiance from Clinton to Sanders.

JEFF WEAVER: There's been a lot of talk about how the Republicans are going into an open convention. Well, the truth of the matter is it looks like the Democrats are going into an open convention, as well. And so I think, you know, we'll see how the campaign develops. But nobody is going to arrive in Philadelphia with enough pledged delegates to win the nomination.

KEITH: The political director for Clinton's campaign, Amanda Renteria, is skeptical. Clinton not only leads in pledged delegates but in the nationwide popular vote. So Renteria argues Sanders' strategy would amount to overruling the will of the voters at the convention. Renteria's hope is it doesn't get to that point. The next big primary is in New York April 19, a state Renteria says looks a lot more like the Democratic base than Wisconsin.

AMANDA RENTERIA: Here in New York it's a different story where you do have vibrant, growing communities of color as well as unions and of course the whole history with the secretary here and what she has done for the city of New York.

KEITH: Clinton tweeted her congratulations to Sanders last night, ending the tweet with a one-word sentence - forward.

MONTAGNE: And that's NPR's Tamara Keith. And let's get back to our guests - Democratic pollster Margie Omero, Republican pollster Neil Newhouse. Both of you can jump in. Why did Sanders win in Wisconsin do you think? Was this all about jobs and the economy?

OMERO: I think it's - the reasons for Sanders' win are the reasons that he's been successful in other states. I mean, he won with younger voters in particular. He won with voters who are looking - who prioritize things like honesty and shares my values or worried about income inequality. Those are the same breakouts we've seen in exit and entrance polls around the country. I think it's no different than we're seeing in Wisconsin and, you know, I think that's why he has had a good run for the last few weeks.

MONTAGNE: Well...

NEWHOUSE: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: ...And also Tamara reported he's now - sorry, Neil, but just to a moment - he has now won 7 of the last 8 contests - caucuses, the Wisconsin primary, also a global primary of Democrats who live abroad. How much, though, does this change the delegate math?

NEWHOUSE: This is Neil. Not a whole hell of a lot. He's had a nice little run. But in the big scheme of things he is still far behind in delegates, especially in superdelegates. When the Sanders campaign talks about neither one of these candidates is going to go to the convention with enough pledged delegates, it completely ignores superdelegates with whom Hillary has a huge lead right now. So I think, I mean, these last few weeks have been good for Bernie, but it just doesn't change the direction that this Democratic primary is headed in, especially with, you know, New York coming up next week which is a string for Hillary Clinton. It doesn't change the trajectory of this race which is likely to end with a - with her easily winning the nomination.

MONTAGNE: So a brokered convention, as his manager suggested, might happen possibly, probably, probably not - yes or no?

NEWHOUSE: It's a pipe dream.

MONTAGNE: (Laughter) OK, pipe dream - all right. Stay with us Neil and Margie. And we're going to talk about how the Republican race shaped up in Wisconsin now with NPR's Sarah McCammon who has been following the GOP candidates.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: At a banquet hall in Milwaukee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz gave a victory speech that sounded almost like a front-runners.

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TED CRUZ: Tonight Wisconsin has lit a candle guiding the way forward. Tonight we once again have hope for the future.

MCCAMMON: Hopeful as Cruz may be after his decisive win in Wisconsin, billionaire Donald Trump remains way ahead. Still, Cruz sounded confident as he rallied supporters.

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CRUZ: I am more and more convinced that our campaign is going to earn the 1,237 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination.

MCCAMMON: But there was more.

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CRUZ: Either before Cleveland or at the convention in Cleveland, together we will win a majority of the delegates.

MCCAMMON: That's a shift from earlier in the campaign when Cruz stressed that he was fighting to earn enough delegates during the primaries to win the Republican nomination outright. Aids to Cruz say they still believe that's possible, but they're focused on winning at the ballot box or on the convention floor this summer. Cruz was joined by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who dropped out of the race last year. He was chief among the conservative leaders in the state who coalesced around Cruz to deliver a blow to Trump last night.

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SCOTT WALKER: This victory is bigger than just Wisconsin. This is the night when we can look back and say that was the time that turned the tightest election to bring Ted Cruz home to be the nominee of this party.

MCCAMMON: Cruz supporter BJ McCarthy (ph) of Milwaukee said he too hopes Wisconsin will prove to be a turning point for Cruz. He says Ohio Gov. John Kasich is hurting Cruz's chances of amassing enough delegates to beat Trump.

BJ MCCARTHY: Hopefully it creates a little momentum in knocking Kasich down a little bit more 'cause he needs to get out of the race.

MCCAMMON: It was a disappointing night for Kasich. He wasn't expected to win Wisconsin but did worse than the polls were predicting and failed to pick up any delegates. As for Donald Trump, there was no gracious concession speech, just a statement from his campaign that called Cruz a Trojan horse being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump. That seemed to reveal a real concern that his odds to clinch the nomination just got longer.

MONTAGNE: That was NPR's Sarah McCammon. And, Neil, would you call this more of a win for Ted Cruz or a loss for Donald Trump?

NEWHOUSE: I think it's both. But I - but here's the real thing is moving forward - OK so what does this mean for two weeks from now when voters in New York are voting? It doesn't mean a lot. And this is going to - on the Republican side - I think you have to look at it like this - it's going to be a roller coaster ride between now and Cleveland because each of these candidates, Cruz and Trump, are going to have their moments. I mean, when you look at what the states that are voting on April 19, which is New York, and then April 26, which is mid-Atlantic and kind of Northeast, Donald Trump's going to do extremely well. And so he is going to have a run then followed by Cruz is going to have a run. It's going to go back and forth for a while. So this is - we are - this is far from over. There are 62 more days between now and June 7, which is when California votes. So we have a long ways to go yet.

MONTAGNE: And, Margie, your counterpart's pollsters in Wisconsin have been telling us that the Trump voters and the Sanders voters were motivated by a lot of the same things. Did that turn out to be the case in Wisconsin?

OMERO: I think there's really no comparison between the two camps. I mean, what made Trump lose this time around was that he did worse with men. In every other state so far you've seen a gender gap where women have done a lot worse. Women have voted a lot less for Trump than have men. There was no difference in Wisconsin. And that's part of the reason why Cruz won. And we're seeing that his views toward women are becoming unacceptable not just to women but to everybody.

MONTAGNE: Great. Margie Omero, Democratic pollster, also Neil Newhouse of the Public Opinion Strategy, Republican pollster. Thanks both of you for joining us.

OMERO: Thanks for having me.

NEWHOUSE: Thanks, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.