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Democrats To Face Off In Close Wisconsin Primary Race

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Wisconsin voters could have a big say in the presidential contest tomorrow. In the Republic race, Ted Cruz and John Kasich are looking to stop Donald Trump from picking up any delegates and block his plans to lock up the GOP nomination. We'll have more on that in a moment. But first, on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders' campaign is calling Wisconsin critical. Polls show the race is highly competitive between the Vermont senator and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. NPR's Tamara Keith is in Milwaukee where former President Bill Clinton is actually campaigning for his wife. Hey there, Tamara.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: I want to as you why Wisconsin is so important for Bernie Sanders.

KEITH: Well, at this point, Senator Sanders has a very narrow path to getting the number of delegates he needs, and that path goes through Wisconsin. The state is a demographic sweet spot for him. He won the two neighboring states Minnesota and Michigan. And he's been on a roll with wins in recent caucuses, and he needs to win big in Wisconsin to keep that momentum going and also to give credibility to his argument that he really does have a path to the nomination.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, how do things look on the ground?

KEITH: Well, there were some snow flurries today, though no snow actually on the ground. And polls do show it very, very close. I've been to two Sanders events in the last couple of days where it at least seemed like they didn't live up to expectations for attendance. There were a lot of empty seats.

And tonight, The Sanders campaign actually changed the venue from a big sports arena where a professional basketball team plays to a convention center ballroom. I can't say what should or could be read into that, but they also were moving it a bit farther away from a Donald Trump rally that's being held at the same time in downtown Milwaukee. And also I should add that here at this Clinton event, attendance is not what you'd call overwhelming.

CORNISH: You know, meanwhile, the campaigns got, actually, snippy with each other recently. They fought over when to hold another debate in New York ahead of that primary on the 19th, and they were also fighting over where Clinton's campaign contributions come from. Are those things still being hashed out on the campaign trail.

KEITH: Yes, they are still debating the debates. And there are at least seven possible debate dates on the table but no agreement yet, and they're battling it out on cable and Twitter and press releases and elsewhere. And over the last couple of days, Bernie Sanders has been less openly critical of Clinton, but at today - at an event today in Janesville, Wis. - it was at a union hall - he once again talked about sort of the purity of financing his campaign through small-dollar donations and then criticized Clinton's big-dollar fundraisers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: I am not a candidate who goes to the unions and goes to the workers and leaves and goes to a fundraiser with Wall Street. You are my family, and I have worked with unions for my entire life and with working people. That is what this campaign is about. That's what I've been about my whole life.

KEITH: And just an update - we got Clinton's fundraising totals for March. She raised $29-and-a-half million, but that pales in comparison to the 44 million that Sanders raised in the month.

CORNISH: Just a few seconds left, Tam. How much do we think things could change with Wisconsin?

KEITH: Unless something dramatic changes, it's not going to change the trajectory much, but with those fundraising totals, Bernie Sanders can keep going and going through the end.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tamara Keith in Milwaukee. Thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.