Sanders, Cruz still face daunting delegate math

Steve Peoples
Associated Press

Washington – — Republican Donald Trump signaled a shift toward “more meat on the bone” in his policy speeches Wednesday amid new signs of campaign discord, a day after his stinging Wisconsin defeat emboldened his critics and pushed the GOP closer to its first contested national convention in four decades.

Democrat Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, embraced a tougher approach with liberal rival Bernie Sanders, who beat her in Wisconsin. Still, Sanders’ string of recent primary victories has done little to erode the former secretary of state’s overwhelming delegate lead as the 2016 primary season lurches toward a high-stakes contest in two weeks in New York.

“The core issue in his whole campaign doesn’t seem to be rooted in an understanding of either the law or the practical ways you get something done,” an aggressive Clinton declared in an interview on MSNBC. She suggested Sanders “hadn’t done his homework” on specific prescriptions needed to address economic inequality.

As the Democratic front-runner tried to undercut Sanders’ recent momentum, Trump’s grasp on his party’s presidential nomination appeared far more tenuous. Senior Trump adviser Barry Bennett shrugged off the Wisconsin loss to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, but he also said the billionaire businessman would soon begin to deliver a series of “presidential, substantive” speeches on his policy priorities. That list likely includes immigration, trade, defense and taxes.

“That’s coming,” Bennett said of the shift. “There will be more and more meat on the bone as we go forward.”

What Cruz and Sanders are attempting is exceedingly difficult this far into in a presidential contest — translating momentum from individual contests into race-altering movement among delegates.

Clinton lost to Sanders on Tuesday but retains an expansive delegate lead over the Vermont senator. Her margin over him can be diminished enough to deny her the nomination only by a series of swamping defeats in the remaining contests.

Trump's loss to the Texas senator had a bigger effect because Trump's path to the nomination already was narrower than Clinton's. That, plus the evidence from Wisconsin that Trump continues to struggle to expand his portion of the electorate, increased the chance that the summer Republican convention will open without any candidate having seized the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination.

While Trump maintains a big delegate lead, Cruz took a big step forward with his win in Wisconsin. The senator has no realistic path to claim the nomination by the end of the primaries on June 7, but he might force a contested convention by blocking Trump from getting a majority of delegates in the state-by-state voting.

Trump must win 57 percent of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination before the convention. So far, he’s winning 46 percent.

Despite a sizable delegate lead, the stakes are high for Clinton in New York, the state she represented for eight years in the Senate. A loss there would be a major political blow that would highlight her weaknesses within her own party.

Sanders must win 68 percent of the remaining delegates and uncommitted super delegates if he hopes to clinch the Democratic nomination. That would require blow-out victories by Sanders in upcoming big states and small.

Los Angeles Times contributed.