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In The Presidential Primaries, Some Shifts On Both Sides


Presidential candidates sure ate a lot this week - matzah, blintzes, pizza slices. The presidential campaigns have moved to New York for the next primary. After Bernie Sanders won the Democratic primary in Wisconsin this week, Ted Cruz won the Republican side. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump hope to rebound in more familiar territory. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Let's begin with the Democrats. They were playing so nicely together. And then this week it seemed like they were calling each other unqualified. Both candidates say they're getting sick and tired. What happened?

ELVING: I have no doubt that they are sick and tired of each other. But let's be clear, Hillary Clinton never actually said that Sanders was unqualified, despite multiple efforts on the part of many hosts to get her to do that. She kept saying that she thought she was more qualified and so on. And she never would actually say that he was qualified. And this, of course, all followed on a rather rocky interview that Bernie Sanders had with New York Daily News that went viral.

And so then he looked at a headline that he saw in The Washington Post that said she had questioned his qualifications. That set him off. And in reaction, he said that she had disqualified herself by her vote for the disastrous war in Iraq, as he put it, and also with her donations from Wall Street. But then on Friday, both candidates seemed to back off. When Sanders was asked directly if she was qualified for the White House, he said of course. And later on in the day Clinton said the whole controversy was silly.

SIMON: I wonder though, was some damage done in that are there Democrats who worry that charges like that, or just the word unqualified, sticks to a candidate and that the national race for the Democratic candidate is not going to get underway until after the convention, which - which is not what they were planning on.

ELVING: That's really true. And there is always concern about any nomination fight that divides the party and especially if it goes all the way to the convention. Looks like it's going to this time. We saw that in 1980 with Jimmy Carter and Teddy Kennedy. The party never really recovered that year. And there is a Bernie or bust contingent among Senator Sanders' supporters, much as we saw die-hard Clinton supporters holding out in 2008. But at least in that case in 2008, unity was restored partly because of all that was at stake in that election.

SIMON: The high unfavorable rating that Secretary Clinton draws in polls, that can't be helped by a continuous campaign.

ELVING: No indeed. And this is part of the reason why many of Clinton's supporters sense the kind of, you know, let us say gender prejudice in this qualification issue. And that, of course, is a toxic issue to raise within the Democratic Party or to put out there for the fall campaign.

SIMON: Republican side, Ted Cruz won in Wisconsin. He's being congratulated for having a superior delegate operation, too. Did Donald Trump just stumble in recent times or has he fallen and can't get up?

ELVING: Now, how many times have you and I had this conversation about whether or not the Trump wave has crested, last summer, last fall? My sense is that Wisconsin was a serious wound, but it was probably always going to be a tough state for him. Sure, the abortion controversy was hurting him and some of these things are beginning to pile up a little bit, but let's see how the next primaries go in New York and the Northeastern states. Those are going to be very tough ground for Ted Cruz.

SIMON: Surveys, I saw, on Friday say that a lot of people now consider it likely there'll be an open contested Republican convention. Until recently, pundits said, of course, the nomination will be one of the primaries. That's what the process is about. So is it possible the Republican Party will get millions of people to vote in the primaries, from Maine to Alaska, then nominate someone who didn't win the most votes, who maybe even wasn't running?

ELVING: That's right. It is possible. It could happen because after the first ballot, anything can happen, including nominating the person who had the most votes on the first ballot but not enough to get over that 50 percent threshold. So Wisconsin really opened the gates of mathematical possibility just a little bit wider. And Trump will need to win and win substantially right up to June 7, the last day of primaries, and he'll need to win big on June 7 - California, New Jersey - if he's going to get to 1,237. It's more likely at this point that he will fall a little bit short. Maybe not so much short that he can't get over it at the convention itself, but if he can't, let the games begin.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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