RACINE, Wis. — Donald Trump wants voters to know his message to the disaffected isn’t meant for Republicans alone.
The party’s Presidential front-runner told supporters April 2 that he’s out to bring independents and Democrats behind his cause even though “right now I’m catering to the Republicans.”
Contenders in both parties bid for an edge ahead of Wisconsin’s primaries on April 5, none more actively than Trump, who’s had a rough week and faces a likely struggle against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the state.
The Republican race is overshadowed by a persistent effort by Trump’s rivals in the campaign and the party to force the nomination fight into the July convention — and by his equivocations on whether he will be loyal to the GOP or bolt for an independent candidacy if he feels mistreated.
In Racine, in the first of his three rallies, Trump said little to suggest his allegiance with the GOP is cast in stone. He offered the critique that the Republican Party had a “falling-asleep reputation” until his campaign caught fire and brought millions of new voters out to primaries and caucuses.
And he sharply challenged Cruz, who appears to have the advantage in the Wisconsin race. “There’s such deception and lying,” he said of his rival.
The outcome in Wisconsin will help determine whether Trump can seize the Republican nomination without a fight at the convention.
The Democratic race has grown increasingly bitter, too, though it has not matched the GOP contest for raw hostility. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both attended a Wisconsin Democratic Party dinner April 2.
Their attention will quickly turn to an even more consequential contest, in New York on April 19, where the Democratic front-runner dearly hopes to avoid an upset in the state she served as Senator.
Sanders urged Wisconsin rally-goers to come out in droves.
“Here is the political reality,” he told a young, pumped-up crowd on the University of Wisconsin’s Eau Claire campus. “If there is a large voter turnout — if working people, many of whom have given up on the political process, if young people come, perhaps for the first time — … we will win on Tuesday.”
Bundled up in winter jackets and gloves, Sanders supporters waited for hours to hear him.
Sophomore Joseph Lehto said he probably will vote for an independent if Sanders doesn’t get the nomination. “Hillary Clinton is a conservative disguised by mildly social policies,” he said. “She is a more of warmonger than just about anyone.”
Trump held two afternoon rallies April 2 and one in the evening, in Racine, Wausau and Eau Claire. In Janesville, Wisconsin, earlier in the week, a man pepper-sprayed a 15-year-old girl as Trump opponents and supporters clashed outside his rally. But the April 2 events went off without such disturbances.
Wisconsin has emerged as a proving ground for anti-Trump forces as the front-runner’s campaign hit a rough patch. Trump defended his campaign manager after he was charged with battery against a reporter, backtracked from comments that women should be punished for having abortions, encountered a buzz saw of hostile interviews by conservative Wisconsin talk radio hosts and watched Cruz rise in some preference polls in the state.
In an interview Friday, to be broadcast on Fox News Sunday, Trump left open the question of an independent candidacy when asked about it. “I want to run as a Republican,” Trump said. But if he doesn’t get the nomination? “I’m going to have to see how I was treated. Very simple.”
Cruz has little chance to overtake Trump in the delegate hunt before the convention; Ohio Gov. John Kasich has none.
Both hope to deny Trump a delegate majority in what’s left of the primary season, forcing the nomination to be settled at a contested convention at which one of them might emerge.
Kasich proposed a novel approach to strengthening Social Security at a town-hall gathering with a few hundred people in Burlington, Wisconsin, on April 2.
“Set up a tent city” in Washington, he said, and have mass protests along the lines of the Occupy movement that staged long-lasting demonstrations in the capital, New York and other cities.
“Occupy D.C. to fix Social Security,” Kasich said.
Heading into the weekend of campaigning, Cruz told a Milwaukee County GOP dinner that Trump as the Republican nominee would be “a train wreck,” quipping, “That’s actually not fair to train wrecks.”
By Jill Colvin and Calvin Woodward. AP writers Kevin Burbach in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and Greg Moore in Burlington, Wisconsin, contributed