Republican Ted Cruz scored key victories in the Wisconsin presidential primary on Tuesday dealing a blow to front-runner Donald Trump’s hopes in the presidential race.
“Tonight is a turning point, it is a rallying cry to the people of America,” Cruz told supporters in Milwaukee on Tuesday. “We are winning because we are uniting the Republican Party.”
Trump leads the race, but could fall short of the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination, thus increasing the chances of a rare contested convention.
Cruz’s decisive win was a step forward for Republican Party forces battling to block the controversial New York real estate tycoon, and it raised the prospect of a prolonged nominating fight that could last to the July convention.
Trump said on Tuesday he would prevail despite the loss and took aim at his main rival.
“Ted Cruz is worse than a puppet – he is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination,” the Trump campaign said in a statement.
In the Democratic race, presidential contender Bernie Sanders defeated front-runner Hillary Clinton in the Midwestern state, trimming her commanding lead in delegates.
Trump had 737 convention delegates to Cruz’s 481 heading into the vote, leaving him 500 delegates short of the 1,237 needed to become the party’s nominee in the Nov. 8 election. Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich, the other remaining Republican contender, hope to stop Trump short of a first-ballot victory and trigger a contested convention.
Wisconsin adds to a recent wave of victories by the Sanders campaign, giving the U.S. senator from Vermont a boost before important races in New York and Pennsylvania.
The Vermont senator has scored wins in nearly every county in the state except Milwaukee, but as delegates are awarded proportionally he will not gain a significant advantage over Clinton. Of the 86 Wisconsin delegates, Sanders is on course for at least 44, but Clinton will have at least 28.
This is his sixth in the last seven presidential nominating contests, but he still faces a difficult task to overtake Clinton as the presidential nominating race moves to New York on April 19 and to five other Eastern states on April 26.
Cruz, a conservative U.S. senator from Texas, was aided in Wisconsin by the backing of Republican Governor Scott Walker, who had dropped his own presidential bid in September. Party establishment figures, concerned that Trump will be a weak candidate in the general election and will lead Republicans to a broad defeat in November, have banded together to try to stop him.
The Wisconsin primary followed a difficult week for Trump, who was forced to backtrack after saying women who have abortions should face punishment if the procedure is outlawed, and who voiced support for his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after he was also arrested for manhandling a female journalist.
A new Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday showed Cruz about even with Trump nationally, with Cruz’s recent gains the first time since November that a Trump rivals has threatened his standing at the head of the Republican pack.
The poll, taken April 1 to 5, showed Cruz winning the support of 35 percent of Republicans to Trump’s 39 percent, within the credibility interval for the survey of 568 Republicans. Cruz and Trump were also briefly about even early last week.
As recently as a month ago, when Senator Marco Rubio was also still a candidate, Cruz trailed Trump by about 20 points.