The Republican effort to derail Donald Trump’s presidential bid is in the hands of voters in Wisconsin, who on Tuesday were lining up to decide whether the billionaire would arrive at the GOP convention in Cleveland as the undisputed nominee, or whether conservative Texas Sen. Ted Cruz could earn a Heartland win and deny his rival the requisite delegates.
Both campaigns were bracing for results that were closer than suggested by polls, which showed Cruz ahead. The state’s primary allowed all voters—not just Republicans—to cast ballots. In previous states, that rule has given Trump a consistent advantage.
Democrats, meanwhile, were watching front-runner Hillary Clinton face a tough challenge from populist Bernie Sanders. Clinton has the advantage among delegates and is on track to be the nominee, even though Sanders, too, has found an upper hand in states where primaries are not limited to party loyalists, or caucuses. Sanders has won five of the last six contests.
Ahead of polls closing at 9 p.m. Eastern, the four major candidates were trying to manage expectations for a state that is among the more sophisticated in America. Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s three campaigns in four years—his election, his re-call and his re-election—have left Wisconsinites savvy when it comes to candidates. It also made Walker a deeply popular figure among the state’s conservatives (though loathed by liberals). Trump oddly made criticizing Walker a central part of his campaign, perhaps hoping to siphon off moderates to his camp in the southern tier of the state.
A fifth candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, all but abandoned Wisconsin as he shifted his campaign to friendlier territory in New York, where voters cast ballots on April 19. Kasich cannot mathematically capture the required 1,237 delegates needed to become the nominee, yet his advisers are betting party insiders turn to him if Trump and Cruz also come up short.
Even if Clinton loses as expected, it was unlikely to set her too far back in her chase of the Democratic nomination. Wisconsin awards its 86 delegates proportional to vote tallies. Sanders would have to win roughly two-thirds of the remaining delegates to have a shot; he so far has earned only about one-third.
That left the spotlight on the Republicans, who were heading toward chaos under the party’s byzantine nominating rules that could still be changed before activists assemble in Cleveland this summer.
After Wisconsin, the race heads East. New York votes in two weeks, followed a week later by Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
Wisconsin, which gives 3 Republican delegates to the winner of each of 8 congressional districts and another 18 delegates to the overall winner, lacked the numbers to shuffle a race that has seen Trump’s top status remain durable. Even so, those states combined offered a combined 267 delegates, and only Delaware was set to give all 16 of its delegates to the winner. The remainder apportioned the delegates based on local outcomes.
Indeed, it was increasingly plausible that no candidate would arrive at the GOP convention in Cleveland with sufficient delegates to claim a win. That could send the party into a tailspin of backroom trading, rule rewriting and activist rage—exactly the type of insider dealing that is routinely disparaged by Trump, who rails against the Establishment elites’ clutch on power.
Heading into balloting on Tuesday, Trump had won 47% of delegates. To secure the required number of delegates, Trump would need to win 55% of the remainder. It is a tough climb, especially with Cruz’s team successfully picking off delegates here and there at state conventions.
Cruz, however, faces an even tougher climb. He showed no signs of relenting, however, and kept up hopes that the party will wise up to Trump’s recent stumbles. “Tuesday is a decision point—a decision point that resonates across Wisconsin and across the country,” Cruz said ahead of polls closing.
A Cruz win on Tuesday would leave Trump wounded after a brutal two weeks of voter and media scrutiny, and perhaps signal a shift in the race. Trump’s answers on NATO, nuclear policy, immigration, abortion and executive privilege combined to leave many observers scratching their heads about how a President Trump would behave. Cruz is hoping that a win could give the party leaders a moment to reconsider their opposition to him as the nominee. Cruz is among the most disliked people in the GOP, but he is predictable and represents the Establishment’s best chance to derail Trump’s march to Cleveland.
This article was originally published on Time.com.