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Next Stop, Wisconsin: Front-Runners Face Speed Bumps In Next Primary


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Michel Martin's off today. I'm Mary Louise Kelly. And we start with politics and the presidential race moving on to Wisconsin.


HILLARY CLINTON: Hello Milwaukee.


DONALD TRUMP: We love Wisconsin. It's a special place. I think we're going to do really well.


BERNIE SANDERS: I believe we're going to do just fine here in Wisconsin.

KELLY: Both parties hold primary's there on Tuesday. And to keep things interesting, this is a state where the front-runners are running into trouble. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now to tell us why. Hey Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hey, how you doing?

KELLY: I am well, thank you. Let's start with the Republicans. We just heard Donald Trump there saying he's going to do really well. Do polls agree?

LIASSON: The polls don't agree. This has been a tough week for Donald Trump. He's gotten a lot of blowback over his changing and very confusing series of comments on abortion. He also said he'd be OK if NATO broke up. More and more Republicans are saying he may have shot himself in the foot for real this time, although those predictions haven't always been true in the past.

But it's not one single outrageous thing that he's said. It's the aggregation of all of them together. And Peggy Noonan, who's a conservative columnist, called this the large blob of sheer dumb grossness. His negatives with key groups for the general election, particularly women, are getting very high. More and more Republicans are despairing about his general election chances. And then there is the buzzsaw of Wisconsin itself.

KELLY: Right. Well, stay with Wisconsin itself for a minute because it seems like this is a state that demographically should be very fertile ground for Donald Trump.

LIASSON: It should, but there is a big group of very tuned-in Republican voters. They've been through a lot of races. They've fought off a recall against Gov. Scott Walker, who was a presidential candidate. Now he dropped out the race, and now he's endorsed Ted Cruz. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, is a revered figure in Wisconsin. He's criticized Trump, although he hasn't endorsed anyone in the race. Then there's a group of conservative talk show hosts who are very influential and most of them are in the stop Trump movement. So there are a lot of headwinds. It's a big state. And what's unusual for Trump is that in some polls, he is polling well behind Ted Cruz.

KELLY: Now, interesting things afoot on the Democratic side as well. It looked for a moment there as though Hillary Clinton might have this whole thing put away. But in Wisconsin, Bernie Sanders is polling ahead.

LIASSON: That's right. This is a state with a lot of white liberals. It's a good state for Sanders. Even though Hillary Clinton has a big lead in the delegate count, she's also having to defend herself in Wisconsin but also her home turf of New York State. And she's shown some frustation on the campaign trail. If Sanders beats her in Wisconsin or comes very close in New York, that could change things, although he still needs to win almost all of the remaining contests by very large margins to overtake her delegate lead.

KELLY: Big picture, Mara, with all due respect to the great state of Wisconsin, how much does Tuesday's vote there matter in the grand scheme of things?

LIASSON: It does matter. It's important for Donald Trump. A loss makes the delegate math harder for him. If he wins Wisconsin, he only needs 51 percent of the remaining delegates. If he loses, he needs 56 percent. For Hillary Clinton, this is less of a math problem than a momentum problem.

She's way ahead of Sanders, but he just won the last three contests. If he gets Wisconsin, he'll get momentum and a fresh chance to raise millions of more dollars. And it will make her look as if she is not as strong a front-runner as Democrats thought.

KELLY: OK, the latest there on candidate math and momentum from NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.