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Polls Close In Wisconsin Primaries


Voters in Wisconsin have been at the polls all day casting votes in the presidential primary. Polls closed just minutes ago, and we're going to check in on both Democrats and Republicans in this part of the program. First, we're joined here in the studio by NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving, who is tracking the results. Ron, these moments after the polls have closed. What do we know so far?

RON ELVING, BYLINE: We know that there are early vote counts that show that Ted Cruz on the Republican side is running ahead. And we know that there are early vote counts on the Democratic side that show that Bernie Sanders is running ahead. This would not be a terribly big surprise. That is the arrangement that we had been anticipating through the day and really over the past week or so.

SHAPIRO: It's not a terrible surprise in the context of recent polls. But in the context of Wisconsin, it sort of is because Wisconsin tends to go for the front-runners.

ELVING: Yes, in the sense of Wisconsin's history, if you go back all the way to 1956, they have been with the leading candidate and eventual nominee in almost every instance - a couple of exceptions in '64, one exception in 1984. Apart from that, they go with the flow. They go with the candidate who's leading and on his way to the nomination.

SHAPIRO: All right. Well, let's check in with the Republican side of the campaign. NPR's Sarah McCammon is in Milwaukee, Wisc., where Ted Cruz is holding a party with supporters. And, Sarah, I understand you have been talking with voters there. What are they telling you?

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Well, they're really hoping for a big win for Ted Cruz tonight. He has been ahead on average in the latest polls, so that hope is probably not misplaced. And as we just heard, it looks like there are some good signs for Cruz so far. They're hoping he wins big. They're hoping that gives him a lot of momentum and delegates going forward into, you know, future contests.

And I'm hearing from supporters that, you know, a real dislike of Donald Trump. People who've come out to this Cruz event are obviously very excited about Ted Cruz, and they really hope that he can overtake Trump for the Republican nomination.

SHAPIRO: We should let listeners know there is a slight delay on your line, but the Never Trump crowd is pointing to Wisconsin as a possible turning point. From what you've heard among Republicans, would a Cruz win in Wisconsin tonight be a turning point against Trump or just a little bump in the road for his campaign that is otherwise chugging along?

MCCAMMON: It kind of depends on how big of a win it is. This is not a winner-take-all state, so the delegates could be split depending on how Cruz and Trump do and Kasich in various parts of the state. So it depends a lot on that, on how big of a win it is for Cruz if he wins.

If he sweeps then Trump would be left needing 56 percent, I believe, of the remaining delegates to win. If Trump were to take all the delegates, which looks unlikely but just hypothetically, he'd only need 51 percent. So, you know, it could make a significant difference. It could chip away substantially at Trump's delegate lead and make it harder for Trump to go into the convention this summer with enough delegates to win outright, which of course then takes us into sort of less charted territory as far as who would become the nominee.

SHAPIRO: Right, getting into that question of whether Trump will have 1,237 - that magic number he needs to win outright in the convention. Remind us what has been happening in the Republican contest that could make this a more difficult road for Trump than it has been up till now. Some things have not gone his way, perhaps self-inflicted wounds you could say.

MCCAMMON: Yes. He's had a difficult week this last week or so, a couple of missteps on the issue of abortion, statements that made both the left and the right unhappy when he said last week that women who - that abortion should be banned then if it's banned women who receive illegal abortions should be punished. He quickly backtracked on that.

But then just a few days later in another interview Trump said that essentially that abortion laws should stay as it is, that it shouldn't change and also had - his campaign had to walk that back. That made a lot of conservative Republicans, especially conservative Christians, very unhappy to hear the Republican front-runner say that.

And, you know, I've been talking with voters this week at Cruz and Trump events. And the Cruz supporters, many of them say they either will not vote for Trump under any circumstances or it would be very hard for them. They would only do it because they believe Hillary Clinton will be the nominee and they think she would be worse. But, you know, it seems to have damaged Trump. And, you know, he has had a history of making statements that were controversial. And he's had - he has a lot of people in the party that don't like him and has for a long time. So that's not really new. It seems that, though, as the field narrows, you know, many people are consolidating behind Ted Cruz. And Cruz is certainly trying to make the case that he's the only one who can beat Trump at this point.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon covering the Republican side of the race, speaking to us from Milwaukee, Wisc. And covering the Democratic side of the race, NPR's Tamara Keith is in New York. And, Tam, explain why you're in New York given that the voting tonight is happening in Wisconsin.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, because neither of the candidates on the Democratic side are in Wisconsin tonight. Hillary Clinton was here in New York earlier today for an event - a campaign event, a women for Hillary event in Brooklyn. And then tonight she attended a fundraiser. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders is in Laramie, Wyo., and he'll be giving a speech a little bit later. So - and the reason Hillary Clinton is campaigning in New York is of course because April 19 is the New York primary. And it has a large delegate prize and it is the birthplace of Bernie Sanders and the adopted home state of Hillary Clinton. And there's a lot at stake in New York.

SHAPIRO: Well, even though Clinton is in New York and Sanders is in Wyoming, Wisconsin could have an impact on the Democratic side of the race. What is its importance tonight?

KEITH: The importance is really for Bernie Sanders. If he can win and win big, then he can make a case that he's on a roll. I mean, he already is on a roll. But he has - he's won in several sort of smaller states, in caucus states. This is a primary. If he is able to get a big win, then he can say, hey, look, I've got momentum. Let's keep this going. He can raise a lot of money.

SHAPIRO: I think Wisconsin would be number six in a row for him. Is that right?

KEITH: I think it is - would actually be seven.


KEITH: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: So then looking ahead, Hillary Clinton in New York, Bernie Sanders in Wyoming, is this the same divide we've been talking about for months now - narrative versus delegate math?

KEITH: Yes. Yes, in fact. So Bernie Sanders is in Wyoming, which is a state that is having a Democratic caucus on Saturday. He is widely expected to win that and then he'll have 8 out of 9 of the last contests. And still Hillary Clinton will have a very large lead in the delegates. And the delegates are how you win the Democratic nomination. It isn't really about momentum. And Sanders will be in a position, though, starting to make an argument that, hey, look, I've won a lot of states. I'm winning states. And he will begin trying to make an argument to those superdelegates, those people out there that are able to put their vote toward the nomination to say, hey, you should be supporting me because I won in your state. So that's where it goes next. But Hillary Clinton still has a huge lead in the pledged delegates. She has a huge lead in the popular vote. Wisconsin will likely cut into that lead a little bit, but she's up nationwide popular vote by 2.5 million votes.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tamara Keith covering the Democratic side of the race with the Clinton camp in New York. And let's wrap up this segment back with Ron Elving here in studio. Ron, could tonight's results in Wisconsin, if they go the way they're leaning - Cruz and Sanders - provide a dramatic turn for the race or just a little bit of a shift?

ELVING: It looks like it's going to add to the momentum that as Tam was saying Bernie Sanders has been building up over the last several weeks ever since he had that one bad night in March - March 15 - when he lost five states to Hillary Clinton. Since then, he's really been quite dominant. Although he did lose in Arizona, which was about half a million voters. And most of those states that he's been winning since have been smaller in terms of their voting population because either that they're smaller states - Hawaii, Alaska - or because they have caucuses, which are usually only attended by the most activist members of the party. So momentum for Bernie Sanders. On the Trump side - what Cruz is trying to do tonight is a game changer.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Ron Elving, more results to come. Thanks, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.