Bernie Sanders swamped Hillary Clinton in the Wisconsin Democratic primary Tuesday. Ted Cruz won big over Donald Trump on the Republican side. The chances for a contested Republican convention increased markedly. And Sanders’ momentum in the Democratic race continues to gather strength.
The margin of Sanders victory – 56.5 percent to 43.1 percent – surprised. He ran even with Clinton among Democrats and slaughtered her among independents (by a 40-point margin) who chose to vote in the Democratic primary. He ran even among women, and enjoyed a big lead among men. Once more he won young voters by staggering margins – 82 to 18 percent among those 18-29, two to one among those 30-44. He lost African American voters, but won young nonwhite voters 54-44. (For analysis of exit poll data go here and here).
Wisconsin voters reflected the attitudes that have largely defined this race. Those most concerned about honesty and trustworthiness or a candidate who cares about "people like me" went for Sanders. Those who valued experience or electability went with Clinton. The economy remained the most important issue, with three-fourths of Democratic voters worried about the direction of the country, and 40 percent fearful that their children will not fare as well as they have.
Celebrating the victory at a massive rally in Wyoming (the Wyoming caucuses are this Saturday), Sanders hailed his “momentum.” He started as a “fringe” candidate at single digits in the polls and now runs even with Clinton nationally. He was mocked for suggesting he’d run a campaign by raising money from small donors and disavowing any super PAC. He’s now outraised Clinton $109 million to $75 million over the last three months. He’s on the campaign trail while she’s going to high-dollar fundraisers. (She spent election night at one of those in Brooklyn.) He’s now won six contests in a row – Wisconsin, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Utah and Idaho. He continues to cut Clinton’s lead in pledged delegates. Pundits dismissing his chances say he has to win over 55 percent of the vote in remaining contests to catch up to Clinton. He’s done that or better in each of the last six races.
On Republican side, Cruz’ victory margin exceeded most predictions. What is clear is that even Republican primary voters are not happy with their choices. Only 62 percent of Republican voters in Wisconsin would support Trump in the general election; only 66 percent would back Cruz in the general. The Republican race has exposed both of these candidates for what they are – and even Republicans are appalled.