Until late yesterday, polling in Wisconsin’s primaries showed Donald Trump in a tight battle with … Marco Rubio. It had been over a month since anyone polled the next big battleground in the Republican primary until Emerson College filled the gap late yesterday. Instead of Trump having a ten-point lead over Rubio, though, the survey found that Ted Cruz had edged out in front 36/35 over Trump, and putting himself in position to take most of the state’s 42 delegates on April 5th:
As establishment Republicans look for ways to slow Donald Trump’s relentless march toward the party’s presidential nomination, Wisconsin’s winner-take-all GOP primary contest on April 5 offers some intriguing possibilities. In a statewide Emerson College poll released today, Texas Senator Ted Cruz is not only leading Trump 36% to 35% in the upcoming primary, but Cruz is only trailing Hillary Clinton by one point in a hypothetical general election matchup, 46% to 45%. In contrast, Trump is trailing both Clinton and her Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders, by the same 9-point
margin of 47% to 38% in a potential general election match-up.
The Democratic primary isn’t quite as close, but it’s not a blowout either:
In the Democratic primary, Clinton leads Sanders by 6 points, 50% to 44%, with 5% undecided. Wisconsin’s demographics bode well for Sanders, who has enjoyed his strongest wins in states with a low percentage of minorities and lopsided support for him among young voters. He leads Clinton 67% to 29% in the 18-34 age group and ties her at 48% among voters 35-54. As in other primaries Emerson College has polled, he trails her by large margins with older voters: 63% to 31% (ages 55-74) and 73% to 19% (ages 75 and up). Less than 10% of the state’s Democratic voters are African American or Latino, groups that have supported Clinton very heavily in other states.
Let’s stick with the GOP primary. Kasich falls far off the pace in Wisconsin with only 19% of the vote. According to Emerson’s data, he’s pulling more of that vote away from Cruz than Trump, as Cruz has higher favorability than Trump among Kasich voters, 36/27. If Wisconsin came down to a two-person race, Cruz might lead outside the margin of error. Trump might still win delegates by winning in one or more Congressional districts, but Cruz would win the statewide delegates and other CDs to boost his status in the delegate chase. If the polling from Emerson is accurate, Kasich probably can’t win a single delegate.
Why does this matter? Scott Walker stands poised to endorse either Cruz or Kasich; he’s made it clear that he won’t endorse Trump. Polling results like these would probably push Walker to endorse Cruz, and to do so soon, in order to get Kasich to back down. That would also be true of other Republicans who want to see Cruz block Trump from winning a majority of delegates before the convention. While the impact of those endorsements might be debatable, the potential impact might be enough to convince Kasich to look for greener pastures for his limited and declining resources. The only question would be where those pastures would be, if not in Wisconsin.
In a general election matchup, Trump fares worse than Cruz, although both come up short against Hillary. Trump would trail 38/47, losing women 33/52 and independents 33/47. Cruz, however, comes into the margin of error overall at 45/46, trailing among women by 41/49 and independents 41/45. (There are no head-to-head questions with Kasich.) In terms of overall favorability, Kasich performs the strongest at 52/30, while Cruz goes under water at 39/52. Trump’s favorability among registered voters in Wisconsin is atrocious, however, at 25/69. Hillary’s, by the way, is almost as bad as Cruz’ at 42/55.
How much does Wisconsin matter? In my book Going Red, I selected Wisconsin as a key swing state in the general election. Republicans should have no better time than now to push this state into GOP territory: Barack Obama will no longer be a factor, Walker has broken the public-employee unions’ power, and the voters now elect Republicans statewide rather than Democrats. However, this state will require both excellent ground organization and a message of pragmatic conservatism tied to local concerns in order to vote for its first Republican president since Ronald Reagan. At first blush, Kasich would be the best fit of the three, but Cruz easily out-organizes his rivals — and he knows how to tailor his message for each community.
In order to win in Wisconsin, one has to win big in the northeastern quadrant of the state, especially in Brown County. Reid Ribble, who won three terms in Congress in this region, told me what voters there want to see. “Genuineness and humility matters,” he says. “There are some very traditional values that are held dearly in northeast Wisconsin.” The candidate who wants Wisconsin has to have the ability to tap into that, or forego any hope of winning.
For now, though, the decision has to be about the nomination. If the GOP wants to win Wisconsin and its ten Electoral College votes, they had better hope Cruz pulls this off in the April 5th primary.
Update: It’s also worth noting that Trump’s Rust Belt path to the presidency depends on flipping Wisconsin. With a 25/69 favorability rating, that will be almost impossible, outside of a concession by Democrats. Wisconsin is too much in the throes of partisan warfare for anyone with that kind of favorability rating to compete effectively for enough votes in the narrow middle that exists there.
Cited from GOING RED: THE TWO MILLION VOTERS WHO WILL ELECT THE NEXT PRESIDENT—AND HOW CONSERVATIVES CAN WIN THEM Copyright © 2016 by Ed Morrissey. To be published by Crown Forum, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, on April 12. Available for pre-order in hardcover, e-book, and audio.