Unlike Minnesota, Wisconsin matters in presidential politics and we shall see that again this Tuesday
In presidential general elections since 1976 Minnesota has reliably voted Democratic in every presidential election and it probably will again do so in 2016. Were this a seriously contested state that the Democrats had to defend then it is going to be a bad year for them and their presidential candidate. Wisconsin though is a presidential swing-state, although a weak one. Democratic Presidential candidates have consistently one it since 1988 but the margins of victory are often close and Republicans have campaigned hard to flip it. Come this fall the presidential nominees will be there but not in Minnesota.
But Wisconsin matters too in a different way. This coming Tuesday the Wisconsin presidential primary will matter for both parties. Consider first for the Republicans.
Critical to the Dump Trump movement is beating Trump in Wisconsin. The establishment Republicans have pulled out all the stops to support Cruz in the hope of preventing Trump from winning. Why is Wisconsin so critical? Right now if Trump continues on his current path of winning delegates he will either have enough to win the nomination on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention or be close. If he has enough delegates in the first round to win the nomination then it is over–he is the GOP nominee. If he falls short of a majority in the first round of voting then under most state laws or party rules, the delegates pledged to him can vote for whomever they want in the second and subsequent rounds. At this point it is a brokered or contested convention and anyone can get the nomination.
The strategy behind the Dump Trump is to halt his delegate winning and Wisconsin looks like a good place to start. Right now we know that mathematically only Trump can win enough delegates for a first round victory; it is impossible for Cruz or Kasich to do so. Supporting Cruz in Wisconsin is something that establishment Republicans are doing not because they like him but because they dislike Trump more. While the Dump Trump movement by establishment Republicans has so far failed they are hoping now they can succeed and eventually derail him from winning the nomination.
Whether this strategy will work is yet to be seen. If it does, the convention will be a fight that parties normally do not want shown. They want conventions to be four day infomercials for them. They do not want to show off infighting. But more importantly this year, a brokered convention will be ugly. It will be the party establishment telling the voters in the primaries and caucuses that they got it wrong and that the candidate with the most delegates is not the one who should be the nominee. In addition, if they stop Trump, who is the nominee? I doubt Cruz, and Kasich is a long-shot. Who will the party support and where will the Trump voters go? Where will Trump go? I doubt away quietly.
Clinton built up a huge lead with Super Tuesday and the Mini-Tuesday on March 15. But since then Sanders has done very well, winning almost all of the states since then. Some argue that Clinton’s best states were in the south and they are now behind her and that the path is there for Sanders to win the nomination. Mathematically, he can. If he can win approximately 58% of the remaining delegates he wins the nomination on the first round. In the last six contests he has won by an average of about 58% and in northern states his winning margin is about 56%. Right now Clinton has 1,266 pledged (non-super) delegates, Sanders has 1038. Yes Sanders is 228 delegates behind. He has been closing for a couple of weeks while Clinton has been again assuming she is inevitable and turning her attention to Trump and not sealing the deal for her nomination first.
Polls at one time had Clinton with a 20%+ plus lead in Wisconsin. Now polls suggest Sanders is leading. This follows a pattern similar to other states that Sanders has won. Wisconsin was supposed to be part of Clinton’s northern firewall. It does not look that certain for her now and some rumors are that she is conceding the state to defend New York in a couple of weeks.
Sanders’ supports have many reasons to feel confident about Wisconsin. Yet a word of caution–under Scott Walker and the Republicans the state enacted a very tough voter ID law. It will be curious to see what impact that law has on students and Millennial voters. The irony here will be that if Clinton’s holds on in Wisconsin it might be courtesy of restrictive Republican voting laws. Some also speculate that in a close contest Clinton may have the edge with super delegates. Thus, Clinton could win not necessarily by winning the most delegates, states, or voters (although more Democrats have voted for her than Sanders so far) but through super delegates and restricted voting laws (keep in mind that Clinton wins in states too with closed as opposed to open primaries).
Mainstream pundits still dismiss Sanders. They should not. He can still mathematically win and in the last two weeks he has out-polled Clinton and won more delegates. He is forcing her to defend New York and that is something that many thought unthinkable. Yet NY could be won by Sanders. Clinton will not do well upstate NY and NYC has lots of very liberal voters–both Millennial and not–who might go for him. Polls are tightening there. A Wisconsin victory on Tuesday creates more momentum for Sanders and narrows the delegate gap more. Never assume inevitable.
Caucus v Primary
Finally Wisconsin matters because it is holding a primary as opposed to a caucus. In 2008 the turnout in the Wisconsin primary was 36.5%; in 2012 it was 30.9%. Compare to Minnesota where caucus turnout was 7.2% in 2008 and approximately 2.5% This year again about 7-8% of the voters caucused on March 1. Which system matters more to more people?