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After Wisconsin Win, Cruz Confronts the Northeast

After a decisive win over Donald Trump in Wisconsin, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is now staring down a string of GOP presidential primaries in northeastern states that tend to be more moderate and friendlier to his two Republican rivals.

U.S. Sen. and presidential candidate Ted Cruz talks to a voter in Wisconsin ahead of that state's Tuesday primary on April 3, 2016.

Only hours after Ted Cruz's decisive victory in the Wisconsin primary — a "turning point" in the presidential race, by his account — he was at a multi-ethnic restaurant in the Bronx, where an unruly scene unfolded as reporters awaited his entrance. 

"Ted Cruz has no business being in the Bronx!" a protester shouted, expressing disapproval with Cruz's skepticism of climate change. "To receive this right-wing bigot is an insult to the whole community." 

Cruz wasn't in the Badger State anymore. After trouncing frontrunner Donald Trump there, the Texas senator is now staring down a string of primaries in northeastern states that tend to be more moderate and more friendly to his two Republican rivals, billionaire Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. 

"Trump is doing well everywhere, but the northeast really is a base unlike any other for him, even aside from his native New York," said Patrick Murray, a pollster at Monmouth University in Long Branch, New Jersey. Add in the fact that the typical northeast Republican is "generally more in line" with Kasich, Murray said, and that "pretty much leaves Ted Cruz out in the cold."

As of Tuesday, Cruz's campaign was not saying much about its approach to the six northeastern states that award a total of 267 delegates later this month: New York on April 19, followed on April 26 by Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. In only one of them, Maryland, has Cruz's campaign named a state chairman and corresponding leadership team. 

Asked Tuesday how Cruz plans to compete in not just New York but also other northeastern states, adviser Jason Miller told reporters not to count out the senator. "I think we'll surprise you with the number of places where we'll earn delegates," Miller said, declining to go further.

Cruz allies in some northeastern states contend that while they may be reliably Democratic in general elections, their Republican primaries sometimes tell a different a story. Case in point: Cruz Maryland chairman Michael Hough, who handily won his seat in the state senate two years ago by challenging an 11-year Republican incumbent from the right. 

"This group of states I know are supposed to be tough for him, but I think Maryland lines up the best," Hough said of Cruz. "Even though we’re a blue state, Republicans in primaries have a history of electing the conservative candidate."

Cruz immediately headed east after the Wisconsin primary, in which he beat Trump by 13 points. In a fiery statement responding to the outcome, Trump's campaign said it has "total confidence that Mr. Trump will go on to win in New York, where he holds a substantial lead in all the polls, and beyond." 

Launching two days of campaigning in the Empire State, Cruz told reporters in the Bronx that he is not worried about his disadvantage in the state, which was confirmed by a Monmouth poll released Wednesday morning that showed him trailing Trump by 35 points. Cruz also defended his use of the term "New York values" against Trump, rejecting the idea it would be a detriment to winning votes in the Empire State. 

"The people of New York know exactly what those values are," he said, tying them to Trump's donations to New York Democrats over the years. "If you want to know what liberal Democratic values are, follow Donald Trump's checkbook."

At a homecoming rally Wednesday evening on Long Island, Trump was joined by more than half of the Republican county chairmen in New York, a show of home-state force that his campaign said was part of the "most powerful presidential campaign organization in the state." Addressing supporters, Trump repeatedly attacked Cruz as his thousands-strong crowd chanted the billionaire's nickname for the senator: "Lyin' Ted."

"Do you remember during the debate when he started lecturing me about 'New York values' like we’re no good?" Trump asked, recalling how he countered Cruz's jab with recollections of Empire State unity on 9/11. "Folks, I think you can forget about him." 

Cruz's campaign has promised not to forfeit New York just because it's Trump's home state, suggesting it will focus on certain congressional districts. David Storobin, a former New York state senator who supports Cruz, suggested Cruz stands a chance of doing well in predominantly Jewish congressional districts, where he could see his assiduous outreach to the pro-Israel community pay off. 

Trump will not be Cruz's only obstacle in the northeast. There is also Kasich, the only other Republican candidate left in the race.

As results were about to come in Tuesday night, Kasich's campaign released a memo billing the governor as Trump's top competition after Wisconsin, noting its internal data "shows Gov. Kasich running a close second to Trump throughout the eastern seaboard and leading in many critical congressional districts." The bottom line, according to Kasich chief strategist John Weaver: If Republicans want to deny Trump the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination, they are better off voting for Kasich in the northeast than they are for Cruz. 

"The people in this part of the country just identify with Kasich's style of governing more than Cruz's style of governing," said Gary Sasse, Kasich's New England policy adviser and Rhode Island co-chair. Cruz, Sasse added, "hasn't got a lot of friends in Washington until Trump came on the scene."

Cruz's campaign continues to barely conceal its disdain for Kasich, whose presence in the race could complicate Cruz's hopes to pick off delegates in states such as New York. In the Empire State, a candidate must receive 20 percent of the vote to be eligible for delegates at the congressional district level, which make up most of the state's 95 delegates up for grabs on April 19. 

"I’m assuming he’s auditioning to be Donald Trump’s vice president," Miller said of Kasich. "I’m sure Dennis Rodman and Omarosa and Gary Busey are gonna be real distressed to learn they have competition. That’s really all that it can be. A rational person can’t look at the John Kasich candidacy and have any understanding of why he’s continuing in this race unless he’s trying to help Donald Trump."

Yet the Ohio governor appears to be getting a jump on Cruz in laying down a marker in some northeastern states. Kasich is scheduled to stump Friday in Connecticut, where Cruz has yet to hold a campaign event. And Kasich has made multiple stops across Pennsylvania, where Cruz traveled for the first time Friday as a presidential candidate.

"The battle in Pennsylvania is going to matter," Cruz said at a gathering of conservative activists in the Harrisburg area, calling the state a "bellwether." "It's going to make a difference." 

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Politics 2016 elections Ted Cruz