LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

. — While Ted Cruz decried “gutter politics” against him, former Republican presidential contenders gave him a boost Wednesday, casting the Texas senator as the party’s last best chance to stop Donald Trump. The long and bitter 2016 campaign shifted to a new Midwestern battleground.

Ahead of Wisconsin’s April 5 primary, Gov. Scott Walker, who dropped out of the race last fall, declared that only Cruz can catch Trump as time runs short in the primary season. And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gave Cruz his endorsement — a step perhaps designed to hurt Trump more than help the unpopular Texas senator.

“For the sake of our party and country, we must move to overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity Donald Trump has brought into the political arena,” said Bush, who was knocked out of the 2016 contest last month. “To win, Republicans need to make this election about proposing solutions to the many challenges we face, and I believe that we should vote for Ted as he will do just that.”

Indeed, as Democrat Hillary Clinton addressed rising national security concerns, the Republican contest was hit again by personal insults — this time involving the candidates’ families. Cruz slammed Trump during an appearance in the front-runner’s hometown for making a vague threat on Twitter the night before to “spill the beans” on Cruz’s wife.

“Gutter politics,” Cruz said. Trump’s warning that he would disclose something about Heidi Cruz came in response to an ad by an outside political group that featured a provocative photo of Trump’s wife, Melania, when she was a model and before they were married. Trump misidentified the Cruz campaign as the source of the ad.

Heidi Cruz addressed the situation directly during an appearance outside Milwaukee. “The things that Donald Trump says are not based in reality,” she said.

The Republican infighting came the day after Cruz scored a win in Utah and Trump claimed Arizona. Despite modest signs of strength, the Texas senator needs a near miracle to catch the billionaire businessman.

The day-after delegate math laid bare the challenge: Cruz needs to win 83 percent of the remaining delegates to overtake the front-runner. And further complicating Cruz’s path, Ohio Gov. John Kasich vowed to stay in the race at least until the next primary.

“There is zero chance that we would drop out before Wisconsin. And there’d be no reason for us to,” Kasich told reporters as he campaigned in the state, acknowledging his only hope to secure the nomination lies at a contested convention this summer in Cleveland.

Kasich did not earn a single delegate in Tuesday’s contests, but suggested he would do “fine” in Wisconsin’s upcoming primary and would excel in late-April elections across the East.

Things were decidedly less contentious on the Democratic side.

Clinton won in Arizona on Tuesday, maintaining a lopsided advantage over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic race despite his wins in Utah and Idaho on the same night. The former secretary of state is now almost three-quarters of the way to the Democratic nomination.

Trump’s win in Arizona gave him a little less than half the Republican delegates allocated so far. He needs to win 54 percent of those remaining to claim his party’s nomination before the July convention.

Candidates signaled they would spend a lot of time in Wisconsin over the next 12 days.

“It’s pivotal for all three candidates,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. The state’s voters, he said, “are going to find themselves at the center of the political universe.”

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read or Share this story: http://detne.ws/1RkA4Y2