This Tuesday, Wisconsin will hold its presidential primary. It is the only test of candidate strength held that day, and for this reason alone will draw plenty of attention.
In addition, the GOP primary is being touted as one that could reshape the Republican race. Here’s how Dan Balz and Philip Rucker of the Washington Post put it:
Wisconsin has become an unexpected battleground for Donald Trump and the conglomeration of forces desperately aligning against him, with Tuesday’s primary emerging as a key moment that could reshape the Republican nominating contest both mathematically and psychologically.
Ted Cruz — who has tried to unite conservative activists, talk-radio personalities and the party establishment — stands poised to take some air out of the Trump balloon.
Trump has lost more than a few contests this season, but Balz and Rucker argue that “a defeat for Trump would be an embarrassing setback for the front-runner.” Why? Because “it would demonstrate weakness in a place where he should be strong — the state’s blue-collar demographics, along with party rules allowing independent voters to cast ballots in the primary, have been expected to work in his favor.”
There’s another way of looking it, though. Cruz’s surge in Wisconsin has raised the hopes of the “never Trump” faction. If Trump pulls out a victory in Wisconsin, it will demoralize his opponents like nothing else has this year.
So either way, for those who believe in momentum Wisconsin is a big deal.
Momentum aside, what about the math?
Trump needs 1,237 delegates to be nominated. Last month, FiveThirtyEight surveyed top political experts on how many delegates they expect Trump to win in the remaining contests. The consensus was that Trump will win enough delegates to get to 1,208, 29 short of the magic number.
Since then, if I’m not mistaken, Trump fell a few delegates short of the experts’ consensus projections in the contests held on March 22. (Keep in mind, however, that these projections are just educated guesses).
In Wisconsin, the consensus was that Trump will pick up 25 of the 42 delegates. If Cruz were to win the Wisconsin primary — and he is now ahead in the polls — Trump would win fewer than 25 delegates, perhaps around 20 fewer, based on how one poll shows he’s doing in the various congressional districts. Thus, Trump’s projected delegate count would drop below 1,200.
So even if a Trump loss in Wisconsin wouldn’t change the trajectory of the race, it would change the math. Not by much. But the way this race is shaping up, even a swing of 20 delegates might be meaningful in the end.