Trump has terrible week in Wisconsin

MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) — Donald Trump took a battering this week in advance of Tuesday's critical Wisconsin primary election, a contest where the Republican electorate could stall his march toward the party's 2016 presidential nomination and boost the likelihood of a bitter convention fight this summer with Ted Cruz, the ultra-conservative first-term Texas senator.

Trump, whose campaign had gained steam for months even as he did and said things that would have derailed a more conventional Republican candidate, ran into a storm of powerful opposition in Midwestern Wisconsin where a key poll shows him trailing Cruz by 10 percentage points, a survey that showed him leading by that much a month ago.

Even before he arrived in the state this week, Trump was skewered in interviews with a trio of Wisconsin's influential conservative talk radio hosts. On Tuesday, just hours before his first campaign stop, two-term Gov. Scott Walker threw his support behind Cruz.

Much of the subsequent trouble was of the Trump campaign's own making. Corey Lewandowski, Trump's campaign manager, was charged with simple battery for an altercation with a reporter. Then Trump was forced to walk back his assertion that women should be punished for getting abortions, a comment that managed to unite both sides of the abortion debate in fierce opposition to his statement.

"Part of it is just the Wisconsin nice. We don't take too kindly to people who act the way Donald Trump acts," said state Rep. Jim Steineke, the Republican majority leader in the Wisconsin Assembly.

Among mainstream Republicans , Trump has created fears of a permanent split in the party and Cruz was playing on those worries.

"I think the whole country is looking to Wisconsin right now to make a choice in this race, and I think the choice Wisconsin makes is going to have repercussions for a long time to come," said the Texan who has alienated most of Senate colleagues.

Trump's view is rosier for his own campaign: "If we win Wisconsin, it's pretty much over."

If Cruz sweeps all the delegates in Wisconsin, Trump will need to win 57 percent of the remaining delegates in other states to collect the 1,237 he needs to clinch the nomination. So far, he has won 48 percent of all delegates awarded.

Wisconsin offers 42, putting it in the middle of the pack of primary prizes. But the state's stature in Republican politics and its position on the calendar — no other state votes until April 19 — have elevated its importance. Though the state has voted for Democrats in the past several presidential elections, it boasts prominent national party leaders including Walker, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

Planned Parenthood and Priorities USA, two groups working to elect Democrat Hillary Clinton, have teamed up for their first anti-Trump advertisement of the election year, a 30-second spot playing on websites that features Trump's abortion comment.

Clinton herself is hardly silent. She said Thursday in Purchase, New York: "Donald Trump is showing us exactly who he is and we should believe him. But let's remember this, all the Republican candidates want to make abortion illegal."

While Wisconsin may provide a much-needed boost to Trump opponents, the real estate mogul will soon find himself back in friendly territory. The next contest awaiting Republicans comes April 19 in New York, Trump's home state and one of the biggest delegate prizes up for grabs.

Clinton, a former New York senator, holds a formidable lead among delegates but opponent Bernie Sanders hopes a series of recent victories in western States might turn into a springboard for a win in Wisconsin.

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AP writers Steven R. Hurst, Julie Pace, Thomas Beaumont, Ken Thomas, Chad Day, Stephen Ohlemacher and Julie Bykowicz contributed to this report.

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