It was a very good night for Ted Cruz.
A rough stretch for Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump culminated in the Texas underdog steamrolling to a decisive victory in Wisconsin on Tuesday night.
“Tonight is a turning point. It is a rallying cry. It is a call from the hard-working people of Wisconsin to the people of America,” a boisterous Cruz said at his watch party at the American Serb Hall Banquet in Milwaukee, where a packed room of fans savored the moment while sipping on Bud Light and Stella Artois beer.
“As a result of tonight … I am more and more convinced that our campaign is going to earn the 1,237 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination. Either before Cleveland or at the convention in Cleveland we will win a majority of the delegates and we will beat Hillary Clinton in November.”
But Cruz wakes up to a discomfiting reality Wednesday: he needs about four-fifths of remaining delegates to win the Republican presidential nomination. Even cutting into Trump’s still-large lead in the primary is a stretch as surveys show him ahead in the three most delegate-rich states yet to vote: New York, Pennsylvania, and California.
David Wasserman, an election analyst at the Cook Political Report, said Cruz’s victory bodes “well for him in Indiana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and other more culturally conservative states that have yet to vote.”
However, “Trump is likely to erase whatever poor performance he has in [Wisconsin with] a big win in New York on April 19—he could win almost all 95 delegates there,” Wasserman added.
In Wisconsin, Cruz benefited from a relative lack of majority-minority districts (which award an outsize portion of delegates per Republican voters, and which have been Trump's strength) as well as broad support from the party establishment, including the endorsement of Governor Scott Walker and a vibrant community of conservative activists who united behind his campaign.
Cruz's campaign wouldn’t specify which of the remaining states or districts it needs to win in order to secure the nomination.
“Our key is continuing to acquire delegates,” Cruz spokeswoman Alice Stewart said. “Several of the states coming up ahead—they're proportional, and we may not win overall but we can rack up some delegates by district and that's what we see as our way to get to 1,237.”
While Trump remains well ahead in the delegate battle, there are some landmines that the billionaire will need to avoid avoid in order to save himself from being cast in an irreparably unpresidential light in the minds of Republican voters.
Exit polls in Wisconsin published by CNN early Wednesday found Trump losing with men and women, with Republicans of all age groups, and even among those who haven't graduated college (by 10 points), a group he typically dominates.
Trump's image among women has taken a beating in the last two weeks after he retweeted an unflattering photo of Cruz’s wife, Heidi Cruz, and stood by his campaign manager, who was charged with simple battery of a female reporter. He has also continued to attack Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly over critical coverage.
Cruz hammered Trump over his behavior in the days leading up to the Wisconsin primary, holding a “celebration of strong women” rally in Madison on March 30.
A recent YouGov poll found that 63 percent of Republican voters—including 67 percent of GOP women—considered Trump's retweet of an unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz inappropriate. Nationally, just 22 percent of American women approve of Trump, while 70 percent disapprove, according to a Gallup survey released April 1.
“It’s ridiculous. It’s juvenile. And it’s definitely not leadership,” said Tami Cain of Brookfield, Wisconsin. “What he’s done with Megyn Kelly is appalling. Clearly he has an issue when he sees a strong woman. He takes issue with it, and he becomes juvenile and attacks it. That’s not what we need.”
The Cruz campaign intends to press that advantage as it elevates the role of Heidi Cruz and surrogate Carly Fiorina at recent campaign events.
“Once you put that notion in women’s head that he’s constantly insulting and denigrating them, it’s hard to overcome that. And clearly he’s not based on what we’ve seen tonight,” Stewart said.
The recent focus on Trump’s proclivity for insults has prompted him to seek a shift in direction, with a series of policy speeches planned in the coming days and weeks on matters like the military and education, according to his campaign.