What winning Wisconsin means for the presidential candidates

Wisconsin’s primary contest is the center of the political universe Tuesday night, with frontrunning candidates hoping to bolster their leads while trailing contenders fight to stay alive. Donald Trump, losing in statewide polls, spent the day attacking Sen. Ted Cruz, while Hillary Clinton turned her attention to the upcoming New York primary. John Yang joins Gwen Ifill for more.

Read the Full Transcript


    Tonight: Wisconsin is the center of the political universe, with presidential primaries that further define this 2016 race.

    Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who has been trailing in recent statewide polls, lashed out again today at his closest rival, Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

    DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: Well, Ted Cruz can't win. There's no way he can get the delegates. And everybody has said that. All of your friends and everybody that I have watched has said that it's impossible, almost impossible, for Ted Cruz to win.

    So, he would have to get it at the convention, which I think would be highly unlikely. So, he can't win. We can win fairly easily. If we won Wisconsin, that would be a big help.


    Both Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich spent the day off the campaign trail. Democrats face a tight race in the Badger State as well, with Bernie Sanders favored to win. He began his day with an impromptu stop at a restaurant in Milwaukee.

    Hillary Clinton spent the day in New York, which holds its primary in two weeks. She talked about her drawn-out battle with Sanders on "The View."

    HILLARY CLINTON (D), Democratic Presidential Candidate: You have to look at the broader perspective. We have won some. He's won some. But I have 2.5 million more votes than he does.



    And there is — I have a very significant lead in delegates, which is what eventually decides who the nominee is.


    Sanders is scheduled to rally supporters in Wyoming later tonight.

    For more on primary day in Wisconsin, John Yang joins us now from a Milwaukee polling site.

    Hi, John. So, what's Election Day look like in Milwaukee?


    Well, Gwen, it looks a lot like this in Milwaukee and all across the state. This is the municipal building in downtown Milwaukee.

    State election officials all across the state reporting heavy turnout, long lines, nothing — no problems, they say. But they're projecting a turnout of 40 percent, which would be the highest since 1980, and they already say that projection may be too low.

    Even before the day began, they had a lot of votes; 209,000 absentee and early in-person votes, that's more than twice the number of the 2012. So it's big turnout today. There's, officials say, no problems with the new voter I.D. law. Anecdotal evidence on social I.D. suggests that only — social media suggests that only a handful of people have been turned away.

    The biggest problem people are talking about on social media, finding parking near their polling place, Gwen.


    Well, if the voter I.D. laws, the voter identification laws have not depressed turnout, what explains this incredible turnout?


    Well, you have got a lot of interest in the presidential race. But, also, there is a hot Supreme Court race, state Supreme Court race statewide. That's driving a lot of the turnout.

    But I think the presidential race is the big draw here. But, also, in Wisconsin, they have prided themselves for many years about voter participation and voter turnout. And also, since 2010, when a party fracture kept a lot of Democrats home and they got Scott — Governor Scott Walker was elected, the Republicans took over the state legislature, the Republicans took the Senate seat as well, since then, you have had the recall votes of 2011, 2012.

    I think that voter turnout and voter participation is something that's become the norm here in Wisconsin.


    Well, you have had those recalls, those efforts to recall Scott Walker along the way, which also ginned up a lot of turnout.

    So, we have seen, as you well know, the latest polls show Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders doing — leading, not the front-runners in everyplace else, but these two leading in this, in the final polls going into tonight. Does that match with what you're seeing as well?


    That is.

    That's what the latest — the last pre-election polls were showing. And very unscientific, talking to folks, we seem to be hearing a lot about that.

    Now, what that does, if those things hold up, what will that do to the race? The way the delegates are allotted here in this race, even if Donald Trump does lose statewide, there are — the Republican delegates are allocated some statewide to the statewide winner, some winner-take-all in congressional districts.

    And given his support in the northern part of the state, it's possible that Donald Trump could walk away tonight with a handful of delegates, not a lot, but when he has that much lead, every little bit helps.

    On the Democratic side, the delegates are apportioned proportionally. So, if the race is as close as the pre-election polls indicate, even if she loses, Hillary Clinton's going to walk away with a good share of the delegates tonight.


    And all of these candidates have already decamped to the next battleground, haven't they?


    Well, actually, Sanders was make some last-minute stops here this morning, Donald Trump as well.

    The only candidate who is going to be here tonight is Ted Cruz, which gives you perhaps an indication of how he thinks he's going to do today.


    John Yang for us tonight in Milwaukee, thank you so much.




    You will be able to find continuing, constantly updated political coverage, including tonight's Wisconsin primary results, online. That's at PBS.org/NewsHour.

Listen to this Segment