BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Ted Cruz boosted his effort to thwart Donald Trump after winning the Wisconsin Republican primary Tuesday.
And many observers say that has moved the party even closer to a contested convention.
Bernie Sanders won the Democratic primary, beating Hillary Clinton and racking up his sixth win of the past seven state contests.
Now, the 2016 field turns its attention to New York State and the April 19 primaries.
“For once the New York primaries are going to mean something here on both sides,” said Jeremy Zellner, chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee.
In the past candidates traveled to the Empire State for money, but with nominations still up in the air — they’re now coming for votes.
“We’re going to have quite a few candidates around here. We’re going to matter,” said Kevin Hardwick, a political science professor and Republican Erie County legislator.
Why does New York State matter for the first time in a long time?
For one, there are hotly contested races on both sides battling for more delegates, and front-runners looking to put away their opponents.
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders still faces an uphill battle against former secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her adopted home state of New York, where 291 delegates are at stake in the Democratic primary.
“She’s working awfully hard,” said Zellner, who’s backing Clinton.
But he says the competition from Sanders is healthy.
“I think that he has helped hone secretary Clinton’s message. I think he has brought forth some good ideas on this campaign. He’s fighting the good fight on behalf of this country. And I think it’s making her stronger,” Zellner said.
Clinton and Sanders continue to the chase the magic number of 2,383 delegates to win their party’s nomination.
On the Republican side, 95 delegates are on the line in New York.
They’re awarded based on finishes in each of the state’s 27 congressional districts.
“We’ve got 27 mini contests. There’s a mini contest in [Congressman] Higgins’ district. There’s a mini contest in [Congressman] Collins’ district. And whoever wins there is going to get more delegates,” Hardwick explained.
Expect Donald Trump to continue his headline grabbing approach, according to Carl Calabrese, a Republican strategist.
He says the billionaire businessman has tapped into something that’s working, and getting him a lot of free media attention.
“He’s a master at it. He really is,” said Calabrese, who says he’s leaning toward Cruz and Kasich. “The man understands the connection between modern political campaigns and the modern reality TV culture. He understands what it takes to stay on center stage and to keep people coming back to watch the next episode of the show so to speak.”
Texas senator Ted Cruz, who called his Wisconsin win a “turning point,” is right on Trump’s heels, building an impressive delegate count. Although, Trump continues to dominate the delegate race.
Then, there’s Ohio governor John Kasich, who’s preventing the one on one contest between Trump and Cruz, and possibly stopping a first ballot nomination at the GOP party’s July convention in Cleveland.
“He’s looking for a contested convention. An open convention. A brokered convention. I think he does well in a brokered convention,” said Hardwick, a Kasich supporter.
The campaign now enters a stretch of states in the Northeast that favors Trump, including his home state of New York.
It’s unclear whether he’ll be able to capture enough delegates from those states to hit the magic number of 1237 needed to win the nomination.
And that’s where the Kasich factors plays.
“He’s hoping that nobody gets to 1237 on the first ballot,” Calabrese explained. “You then have a second ballot at which point about 25 percent of the delegates will be unbound and can go anywhere. They become free agents . And maybe you get to a third ballot. Now all of them are unbound free agents. And who knows at that point.”
But the race for the party nomination is as a much different animal than the race to be president in the general election.
If it turns out to be a Clinton-Trump contest come November, Jeremy Zellner says the Clinton campaign will take nothing for granted.
“I think if Donald Trump makes it that far that his whole ideology is going to be just rejected,” said Zellner. “He’s clearly preaching a message that’s resonating with some people. But I think at the end of the day people are going to see that as a divisive message as something that we do not need.”
Carl Calabrese thinks both sides will attempt to destroy each other in a rough and tumble showdown.
“This is going to be a very nasty, nasty race on the part of both parties. I think it’s going to be a race to the bottom.”
For Clinton, Sanders, Trump, Cruz and Kasich, it’s all about New York which for the first time in many years is a player in presidential politics.
“We never matter in the general election, and the way our primaries have fallen by the time they get to us all the candidates are out but one,” said an enthusiastic Hardwick. “So there’s really nothing to vote for. Well, this year it’s different.”