Ahead Of Tuesday's Primary, Ted Cruz Gains Strength In Wisconsin | WBEZ
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Ahead Of Tuesday's Primary, Ted Cruz Gains Strength In Wisconsin

Wisconsin holds its primary on Tuesday — it's a key state with 42 delegates at stake on the GOP side. Ted Cruz has been gaining strength in the state, where and after lagging at first, he's now leading Donald Trump in polls.

The campaigns have engaged in ugly political combat ahead of the state's primary. There have been personal attacks back and forth — Trump attacked Cruz's wife Heidi in retaliation for an ad on social media from a superPAC supporting Cruz. It featured a risque photo of Trump's wife Melania from years ago. And so it went.

Through it all, Cruz has surged in polls in the state and sometimes — amid all the vitriol — his typical jabs at Trump during his stump speeches seem gentle by comparison.

"You know it's easy to talk about making America great again ... you can even print that on a baseball cap," he said recently to laughter.

And lines like that are paired with biting comments about President Obama and this on his recent to Cuba: "You know just last week we saw a horrific terror attack on Brussels ... and I have to say it was very inconvenient for the President Obama, after all he was at a baseball game with the Castros," he said to more laughter.

Cruz has been working Wisconsin in the same way he did Iowa, a state he won back in February, by going everywhere. Rural areas and cities. Big speeches in classic old theaters, and small meet & greets in small-town diners.

And there was a big endorsement this week from former GOP presidential hopeful Scott Walker. The Wisconsin governor made the announcement on local talk radio powerhouse WTMJ.

"We don't need the national media telling us who the front runner is. We want to pick the person that we think is right, the person that we think is best for Wisconsin," he said.

Cruz is also getting a boost from outside groups that are part of the Stop Trump movement. The conservative Club for Growth is running this TV ad statewide aimed at those considering a vote for OHIO governor John Kasich:

Wisconsin's 42 delegates are awarded mostly by who wins each congressional district. And then a big chunk goes to the winner of the entire state. Marquette University pollster Charles Franklin notes that Trump was long the front-runner here, but he adds that candidates now departed once combined for 30 percent.

So, with Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and Jeb Bush gone, Franklin said, "the question was no longer who's your favorite candidate ... it's of the ones that are left who are you gonna go to?"

So far it appears the answer for more and more Republicans in Wisconsin is Ted Cruz.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

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