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Front-runners head into WI primary as underdogs

Posted at 6:49 PM, Apr 04, 2016

(AP) — After Donald Trump's toughest stretch of the campaign, he 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 missteps in the lead-up to Wisconsin.

While Trump appears to be the only Republican with a realistic path to clinching the nomination ahead of the Republican convention, a big loss in Wisconsin would greatly reduce his 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.

He's facing a tough challenge in Cruz, whom polls show with a lead in Wisconsin. And he 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 Cruz — not 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.

At the same time, Trump's campaign has been outmaneuvered by Cruz in some early 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 who were selected at the party's state convention over the weekend.

All 28 delegates will go to the national convention as free agents. But in interviews, 10 said they were committed to vote for Cruz. A few others said they were leaning toward him.

None has endorsed Trump so far.

Trump is also pushing rival John Kasich to get out of the White House race, arguing that the Ohio governor shouldn't be allowed to collect future delegates because the nomination is already beyond his grasp.

"If I didn't have Kasich, I automatically win," Trump said Sunday evening in West Allis, Wisconsin.

Trump said Kasich could ask to be considered at the GOP convention in Cleveland in July even without competing in the remaining nominating contests. He said earlier Sunday that he had shared his concerns with Republican National Committee officials at a meeting in Washington this past week.

Kasich's campaign countered that neither Trump nor Texas Sen. Ted Cruz would have enough delegates to win the nomination outright in Cleveland.

Trump needs to win 54 percent of the remaining delegates to reach 1,237. That's how many it takes to secure the GOP nomination.

Trump's closest rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, would need to win 83 percent of the remaining delegates, a nearly impossible task.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders is maintaining a slight lead over Hillary Clinton. Sanders, who is coming off of victories in five out of the last six primary contests is telling supporters he will win as long as voter turnout is big on Tuesday.

According to an Associated Press analysis, Sanders must win 67 percent of the remaining delegates and uncommitted superdelegates — party leaders and officials who can support any candidate — through June to be able to clinch the Democratic nomination. So far he's only winning 37 percent

But after a year of campaigning, months of debates and 35 primary elections in the Democratic presidential race, Sanders appears to finally getting under Clinton's skin.

Clinton has spent weeks largely ignoring Sanders and trying to focus on Republican front-runner Donald Trump. Now, after several primary losses and with a tough fight in New York on the horizon, Clinton is showing flashes of frustration with the Vermont senator — irritation that could undermine her efforts to unite the party around her candidacy.

According to Democrats close to Hillary and former President Bill Clinton, both are frustrated by Sanders' ability to cast himself as above politics-as-usual even while firing off what they consider to be misleading attacks. The Clintons are even more annoyed that Sanders' approach seems to be rallying — and keeping — young voters by his side.

While Hillary Clinton's team contends her lock on the nomination is "nearly insurmountable," the campaign frequently grumbles that Sanders hasn't faced the same level of scrutiny as the former secretary of state, New York senator and first lady. Her aides complain about Sanders' rhetoric, claiming he's broken his pledge to avoid character attacks by going after her paid speeches and ties to Wall Street. They also point to scenes of Sanders supporters booing Clinton's name at his rallies.

FOX 17 political reporter Josh Sidorowicz contributed to this report.