Talking politics - the week ahead in the presidential race

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Bernie Sanders scored three wins in Western caucus contests, giving a powerful psychological boost to his supporters but doing little to move him closer to securing the Democratic nomination.

While results in Washington, Alaska and Hawaii barely dented Hillary Clinton's significant delegate lead, Sanders' wins on Saturday underscored her persistent vulnerabilities within her own party, particularly with young voters and activists who have been inspired by her rival's unapologetically liberal message.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Sanders cast his performance as part of a Western comeback, saying he expects to close the delegate gap with Clinton as the contest moves to the more liberal northeastern states, including her home state of New York. He also said his campaign is increasing its outreach to superdelegates, the party insiders who can pick either candidate and are overwhelmingly with Clinton.

"The Deep South is a very conservative part of the country," he said. "Now that we're heading into a progressive part of the country, we expect to do much better."

He added: "There is a path to victory." With Clinton far in front, however, it is a difficult path.

Clinton anticipated the losses: She barely campaigned in the three states, making just one day of stops in Washington state, and was spending the Easter weekend with her family.

She is turning her focus to the April 19 contest in New York, seeking to win a large share of the delegates at stake and to avoid the blow of losing to Sanders in a state she represented in the Senate. She is trying to lock up an even larger share of delegates in five northeastern contests a week later, hoping to deliver a big enough haul to unify the Democratic Party and relegate Sanders to little more than a protest candidate.

Sanders, who's found some success in the industrial Midwest, wants to leverage his working-class support and fiery arguments against free trade into an April 5 victory in delegate-rich Wisconsin. He also plans to compete fiercely in New York and is pushing for the party to schedule a debate in the state, saying in the interview that it would be "really absurd" if one did not take place.

After Sanders' three wins on Saturday, Clinton held a delegate lead of 1,243 to 975 over Sanders, according to an Associated Press analysis, an advantage that expands to 1,712 to 1,004 once the superdelegates are included. It takes 2,383 delegates to win.

Based on the AP count, Sanders needs to win more than 57 percent of the remaining delegates from primaries and caucuses to have a majority of those delegates by June's end.

His bar is even higher when the party officials are considered. He needs to win more than 67 percent of the remaining delegates overall — from primaries, caucuses and the ranks of uncommitted superdelegates — to prevail.

He did not emerge from his Saturday sweep with significantly more delegates, winning 55 delegates to Clinton's 20 for the day after his victories in Alaska, Washington and Hawaii. More are likely to be allocated to Sanders in several weeks, when the Washington state Democratic Party releases vote shares by district. Sixty-seven delegates are awarded based on results in the state's congressional districts.

But there's little question that Sanders has tapped into a powerful frustration within the party. He continues to attract tens of thousands to his rallies and has collected more than $140 million from 4.7 million donations.

Most of his 15 primary-season wins have been in states with largely white populations and in caucus contests, which tend to attract the most active liberal Democrats. He's heavily favored by younger voters, who were a key part of the coalition that twice boosted President Barack Obama to victory. Clinton's ability to win the White House, should she capture the nomination, will hinge on how well she can motivate his passionate — and politically active — supporters.

In Spokane, Washington, a huge line of caucus attendees — largely Sanders backers — snaked around a high school parking lot Saturday morning.

"I think one of the biggest things is free tuition for students," said Savannah Dills, 24, a college student who supports Sanders. "And getting big money out of politics. He's not paid for by billionaires."

Retiree Dan McLay, 64, attended the caucus in a hard-hat, which he joked he needed because he was one of the relatively few Clinton supporters in the big crowd.

"Look at this thing in Brussels," McLay said, referring to the deadly attack in Belgium this week. "We need a real experienced leader."

It was strong support for Sanders that brought Kirsa Hughes-Skandijs out to her first caucus in Juneau, Alaska.

"This is the first time I've ever felt that kind of belief in a candidate, that they mean what they say and that they are not saying what they think people want to hear," she said.

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Associated Press writers Hope Yen in Washington; Nicholas K. Geranios, Walker Orenstein and Rachel La Corte in Washington state; Bryna Godar in Madison, Wisconsin; and Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, contributed to this report.

 

OSHKOSH, Wisconsin (AP) — Donald Trump is planning to make his first campaign visit to Wisconsin on Tuesday, where the upcoming Republican presidential primary could mark a turning point in the unpredictable GOP race.

But rival Ted Cruz has gotten a jumpstart on the contest, racking up influential endorsements, campaigning in key regions and supported by bullish advertising campaign.

A solid Cruz win in Wisconsin would narrow Trump's path to the nomination, heap pressure on the billionaire to sweep the remaining winner-take-all primaries this spring, and increase the chances of a contested party convention in July.

"The results in Wisconsin will impact significantly the primaries to come," Cruz told The Associated Press after a rally in Oshkosh Friday. "Wisconsin, I believe, will play a critical role continuing to unify Republicans behind our campaign. The only way to beat Donald Trump is with unity."

Cruz is positioning himself to win Wisconsin, next Tuesday's only contest, and the first primary since he began collecting the backing of establishment Republicans, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, adamant about eliminating Trump.

As Cruz campaigned across the state ahead of the Easter holiday, he was following a winning roadmap drawn by Wisconsin governor — and former 2016 presidential hopeful — Scott Walker in 2010, up Wisconsin's rural and working-class midsection —the same demographic that has driven Trump's success thus far.

Cruz has mined the GOP vote-rich swath of farms and factories from south-central Wisconsin, up the Fox River Valley's corridor of paper mills, small towns — among them, some of the most swing-prone counties in the country.

The Fox River Valley, suburban Milwaukee and the rural counties outside Madison are home to 75 percent of Wisconsin's most reliable Republican primary voters, said Keith Gilkes, a veteran Walker adviser who worked for his 2010 GOP primary campaign.

"How Gov. Walker won was basically by winning the lower Fox Valley down through the Southeast," Gilkes said. "That's the holy grail demographically for the Republican Party in Wisconsin."

Trump has slightly fewer than half of the Republican delegates allocated so far, short of the majority needed to clinch the nomination before the party's national convention this summer. Cruz has more than a third of the delegates, but is focused equally on stopping Trump and uniting most of the party against him.

If Cruz wins most of the 42 delegates — which, in Wisconsin, are allocated on the basis of state and congressional district winners — then the remaining winner-take-all contests, in Delaware, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey and North Dakota could determine the future of this competition. A solid Cruz win in Wisconsin would likely require Trump to win those five contests to avoid clawing for the nomination at the party's national convention in Cleveland.

With that in mind, Cruz and his wife Heidi campaigned last week in Waukesha County just west of Milwaukee, where expensive homes now occupy ground dairy herds once ruled. He appeared at a conservative conference with influential radio host Charlie Sykes, a vocal Trump opponent who has a loyal suburban following and has endorsed Cruz.

Cruz then pivoted, from the national security and values-minded suburban voters, to the economic frustrations of more working-class voters in onetime industrial hub Janesville in south central Wisconsin.

"I want to take a minute here and I want to talk to all the single moms who are working two and three part-time jobs," Cruz told more than 400 people Thursday.

Cruz rebuked Trump's criticism of Heidi Cruz, a detour from policy to personal that received sharp condemnation from some voters.

Truda Swanson of Appleton, an undecided Republican primary voter, said Trump's personal criticism of Cruz's wife in the lead-up to the primary reinforced her opposition to Trump.

"It's absolutely not why I'm against Trump. I'm against Trump for lots of things leading up to this, including his treatment of women," the 40-year-old health care worker said.

It reinforced warning signs for Trump in Wisconsin, who led in a February poll by Marquette University's Law School, but is now viewed unfavorably by 45 percent of Wisconsin Republicans, according to the same poll.

Cruz stuck to the blue-collar message on Friday in Oshkosh, an area surrounded by rural counties with some of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

But he struck just as hard at Trump, whose support nationally draws heavily from blue collar voters, blasting Trump's call for a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports.

"People are struggling already, and you want to jack up the cost of living by 45 percent?" Cruz asked hypothetically in Oshkosh

Cruz's campaign was airing about $500,000 in advertising over the final two weeks before the primary — a sharp contrast to Trump, who aired no commercials in the state. The anti-tax group Club for Growth announced its plans to spend $1 million on pro-Cruz ads, while an anti-Trump group was spending roughly $340,000 in the final two weeks.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has also visited Wisconsin, and is advertising in the state as is a group that supports him. However, polls show him trailing both Trump and Cruz.

"Ted Cruz has a real opportunity to win the state, in a way that would be pretty resounding," said Mark Graul, an unaffiliated Republican strategist from Green Bay.

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