Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont are projected to win their parties' Wisconsin primaries on Tuesday, according to NBC News, but all of the candidates appeared to be settling in for a drawn out nomination process.
Most polls had indicated that Cruz was likely to top national front-runner Donald Trump, and recent surveys had favored Sanders ahead of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Although Wisconsin only offers a handful of delegates — 42 total for Republicans and 86 tied directly to the Democratic primary — Tuesday's contests will serve a pivotal role in candidates' momentum ahead of the important New York primaries later this month.
In addition to bolstering the Cruz and Sanders campaigns, the Wisconsin results could also hurt the Trump and Clinton narratives — demonstrating conclusively that the current front-runners aren't on an easy path to the nomination.
"As a result of tonight ... I am more and more convinced that our campaign is going to earn the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination," Cruz said during his Tuesday victory speech. "Either before Cleveland, or at the (GOP national) convention in Cleveland, together we will win a majority of the delegates, and together we will beat Hillary Clinton in November."
For his part, Sanders fought back against the notion that Clinton is on track to be the Democratic standard-bearer in the general election.
"Momentum is starting this campaign 11 months ago, and the media determining we were a 'fringe' candidacy. Momentum is starting a campaign 60 to 70 points behind Secretary Clinton. Momentum is that within the last couple of weeks, there have been national polls which have had us one point up or one point down," Sanders said in a Tuesday night address.
Early exit polls painted a picture of the Wisconsin electorate, with stark differences between the two parties. For example, 78 percent of Wisconsin primary Democratic voters said they want their next president to have political experience. Only 46 percent of GOP voters in Tuesday's exit polls agreed, and 48 percent said they want a candidate who is outside the establishment.
Among Wisconsin Republican primary voters, 31 percent identified as very conservative and 43 percent as somewhat conservative, according to NBC News early exit polls. Democrats in the state, meanwhile, have grown more likely to identify as "very liberal," exit polls showed: A full 25 percent described themselves that way this year, while only 16 percent did in 2008.
Of those Democratic voters, 54 percent said they want a leader who will continue with President Barack Obama's policies, but 31 percent said they hope for more liberal policies. Another exit poll result showed that 55 percent of Wisconsin Democratic voters think Clinton can beat Trump in the November general election, while only 42 percent said they thought Sanders could beat him, according to NBC.
Sanders did top Clinton, however, on questions of perceived honesty: About 90 percent of Democratic Wisconsin voters said they thought the senator was honest and trustworthy, while only 59 percent said the same about Clinton, according to NBC's exit polls.
On the Republican side of the field, only 65 percent of Wisconsin GOP voters said they would vote for Cruz in the general election if he wins the nomination — with the rest either picking another candidate or just staying home. For a Trump-led GOP ticket, only 61 percent said they would vote for the Republican nominee.
Nationally, Clinton edges out Sanders in nearly every major poll, and she leads the senator in overall Democratic delegates so far — 1,692 to 1,012, according to NBC News' assignment of pledged and "super" delegates before Wisconsin polls closed.
In the GOP race, Trump is the front-runner in both delegates and national polls, but he faces stiff competition from Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Neither is likely to garner enough delegates to win the Republican nomination outright, but they could challenge Trump at the GOP National Convention in July.
After Wisconsin, the next key campaign event will be the Democratic debate in Brooklyn on April 14, five days before the New York primary. A recent CBS News/YouGov poll shows Clinton leading Sanders in New York 53 percent to 43 percent. On the GOP side, Trump is leading 52 percent to Cruz's 21 percent and Kasich's 20 percent according to CBS News/YouGov.