Sanders and Cruz Win in Wis., but Can They Win When the Black and Latino Vote Is in Play?

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (center) of Texas celebrates with his wife, Heidi, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at the American Serb Hall Banquet Center after the polls closed April 5, 2016, in Milwaukee.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Tuesday night was a huge victory for two campaigns that were once insurgents and are now viable alternatives.

Ted Cruz, mustering all the might of the evangelical Republican base and the desperate “anti-Trump” voters, won the Republican primary in Wisconsin with 49 percent of the vote and, so far, 36 out of a possible 42 GOP delegates. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders won with 56 percent of the vote and got 47 out of the 96 pledged delegates available. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are now re-evaluating strategies after their closest opponents put together a string of victories, but they needn’t fret for too long. The black vote makes a triumphant return after the Wisconsin primary, and it will likely make the difference for the two front-runners.


One of the main knocks on Sanders has been that he does not perform well with minority voters, especially African Americans, in the Democratic primaries. And while there has been some pushback from Sanders supporters, the exit poll numbers aren’t on their side. Clinton tends to win states where the minority percentage of Democratic primary voters is high; more specifically, she tends to win African-American voters by large margins.

The whiter the primary voting population, the better Sanders has done, and Wisconsin was no different. The electorate on the Democratic side was 83 percent white and only 9 percent African American, and Clinton beat Sanders 71-29 percent with black voters. This is not to diminish Sanders’ victory Tuesday night, but looming around the corner is the next “Super Tuesday,” April 26, which features states like Maryland and New York, where sizable populations of black voters will again be a determining factor in who wins.  

On the Republican side, the story is a bit trickier. After Trump’s two-week personal “war on women” tour, he seems to have finally angered enough Republicans that he dropped in the polls, losing Wisconsin. Cruz’s victory was impressive: He won almost 50 percent of the vote and performed well with Republican primary voters who decided on a candidate in the last month and have higher levels of education. However, Cruz’s path to victory is just as murky as Sanders’ on April 26.

While the number of African-American voters in Republican primaries has been negligible (in fact, in most cases there is no exit poll data), Trump has come in second place with Hispanic voters in Florida and Texas, trailing only hometown candidates Sen. Marco Rubio and Cruz, respectively. With New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania coming up on April 26, Trump’s East Coast connections; the larger, more diverse Republican voting groups; and the smaller evangelical-voter crowd mean that the Cruz crew might be in for some trouble.


The Wisconsin primary was a big win for two candidates but didn’t quite become the “game changer” primary that political analysts had hoped for. Yes, Cruz’s victory increases the chances that Trump won’t earn 1,237 delegates and the Republicans will have a contested convention in the summer. However, that was probably going to happen anyway. Yes, Sanders has cut some of Clinton’s lead with pledged delegates. But unless superdelegates start to get cold feet about her prospects to win the fall election, Sanders still needs to win about 58 percent of all remaining primary delegates to win the nomination. In other words, this race is far from over, and until the primary states start to resemble the diversity of America again, there isn’t much we can draw from one good night in the Badger State. 

Jason Johnson, political editor at The Root, is a professor of political science at Morgan State’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and is a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera International, Fox Business News and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Follow him on Twitter.

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