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Wisconsin will play larger role in primaries

MILWAUKEE -- Wisconsin's presidential primary still is nearly two months away, but it appears that the state may play a larger-than-usual role in selecting the Republican and Democratic nominees.The Democratic National Committee scheduled Thursda...

MILWAUKEE - Wisconsin’s presidential primary still is nearly two months away, but it appears that the state may play a larger-than-usual role in selecting the Republican and Democratic nominees.
The Democratic National Committee scheduled Thursday night’s debate between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee because Wisconsin will be a battleground state in the general election, DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said this week.
The Republicans also held a debate here in November.
Last week’s Democratic debate featured several Wisconsin references. Clinton challenged Sanders’ college affordability plan, saying it would require buy-in from governors and she doubted Gov. Scott Walker would support it. 
In response to a question about racial disparities in the criminal justice system, she said “the statistics from Wisconsin are particularly troubling” and referenced Dontre Hamilton, a black man who was fatally shot by a Milwaukee police officer.
“We have to go after sentencing, which is one of the problems here in Wisconsin,” Clinton said.
Wisconsin’s primary - it’s April 5 this year - sometimes is held long after presidential nominees are clear. But this year it may draw a lot of attention from both Democrats and Republicans.
“The odds are that it will matter,” said Democratic strategist Paul Maslin, a veteran pollster for presidential candidates going back to Jimmy Carter. “I don’t see this race getting resolved anytime soon even if Hillary Clinton is able to come back and start winning not only South Carolina and Nevada, but most of the states on Super Tuesday.”
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, speaking with reporters on behalf of Republicans at the Democratic debate Thursday, agreed.
“Pulling into South Carolina, there is no magic demographic coalition that either one of these two candidates is going to be able to build,” Kleefisch said of Clinton and Sanders. “Without a nice coalition, I think the further primary states are going to matter more and more. … The same can be said of the Republicans.”
So far this year, the first two nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire have winnowed both fields, but neither contest has a resolution in sight. Clinton won a razor-thin victory in Iowa while Sanders won by more than 20 points in New Hampshire on Tuesday.
Wisconsin’s primary takes place in a stretch of the calendar with few other contests, so starting in a month, candidates will begin to make several stops in the state. It also comes after a majority of delegates are parceled out, so Wisconsin’s role will still depend on what happens on March 1, also known as Super Tuesday - when, among other states, Minnesota will hold its presidential caucuses.
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said Sanders has to perform well in states like Wisconsin in order to maintain his momentum, especially with Clinton receiving the lion’s share of endorsements from Democratic party leaders and so-called superdelegates - officials whose votes at the Democratic National Convention aren’t bound by primary results.
“Sanders needs to win a whole lot more states in lopsided fashion like he did in New Hampshire,” Kondik said. “We may have a situation where Sanders keeps fighting but can’t make up the delegate deficit if the superdelegates stick with Clinton.”
Wisconsin has political characteristics that could benefit Sanders: an open primary, a predominantly white population, progressive liberals and active college campuses, Kondik said.
Sanders would need to win Wisconsin decisively like he won in New Hampshire, Kondik said, to win the nomination.
So far, two of Wisconsin’s superdelegates - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore - have backed Clinton. No Wisconsin superdelegates have endorsed Sanders.
Baldwin, a Clinton campaign representative at Thursday night’s debate, said the foundations of Clinton’s campaign in Wisconsin are starting to take shape, but she wouldn’t expect there to be a 72-county infrastructure at this point.
“I think it’s going to be a very competitive race for some time to come, but which week in March or April it is hard to say,” Baldwin said.
She said Democrats should support Clinton because she is “a progressive who gets things done.”
Sanders will have campaign staff on the ground in Wisconsin closer to the April 5 primary, campaign manager Jeff Weaver said after the debate. “I expect Sen. Sanders will do very well,” he said.
In the most recent Marquette Law School Poll, Sanders had pulled nearly even to Clinton, who led 45 percent to 43 percent among likely Wisconsin Democratic voters. In August, Clinton’s advantage over Sanders was 44-32 with several other potential candidates such as Vice President Joe Biden still considering a run.
A closer look at the most recent poll shows Clinton has a larger advantage in the Milwaukee area, with its large minority population, where she led 65-23. In the Madison area, with a large student population, Sanders led 55-31.
“This isn’t going to be resolved until one manages to dip into another one’s bases,” University of Wisconsin political science professor Barry Burden said. “Sanders has to make inroads with minority voters and older voters. … The establishment in the party has rallied around Hillary Clinton.”
Meanwhile, the most recent Marquette University poll showed real estate mogul Donald Trump leading among Republican voters with 24 percent support. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had 18 percent and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was at 16 percent in the poll conducted in late January, before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

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