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Sanders needs Wisconsin win to reset race against Clinton

Wisconsin’s Democratic presidential primary kicks off a critical two-week stretch for Bernie Sanders that will show whether he can become a genuine threat to topple Hillary Clinton in the home stretch of the presidential primary or merely continue to dog her until the July convention in Philadelphia.

Fresh off victories in six of the past seven contests, including smashing wins across the West, Sanders is competing in a state that in many ways is tailor-made for him. A triumph in Wisconsin would give him another burst of momentum heading into the April 19 New York primary, where he has a chance to reset the race if he can upset Clinton in the state she represented for eight years in the Senate.

“Wisconsin is very important, actually. There are a good number of delegates here. Our hope is that we can do well. But then we’re going to New York state, and that’s where there are a whole lot more delegates,” Sanders told MSNBC on Tuesday. “And we are feeling really good.”

Clinton’s campaign has been aggressively lowering expectations in Wisconsin, where polls close at 9 p.m. Eastern and early results are expected to begin trickling in shortly after that. Allies of the Democratic front-runner say a defeat would not materially damage Clinton given her strong lead on Sanders (she’s ahead by roughly 230 delegates, or 600 including superdelegates).

Wisconsin awards its 86 pledged delegates on a proportional basis, which ensures neither candidate will net a large delegate haul.

“Wisconsin is a state that favors him. It is much less diverse than most of the states we compete in in Democratic primaries. It’s got a lower population of African-Americans, a very small population of Latinos,” Clinton’s chief pollster and strategist Joel Benenson told MSNBC on Monday, setting the bar for expectations Tuesday night.

Clinton’s campaign, Benenson remarked, has “done very well in building a diverse coalition, which is why we’ve won far more primary elections than Sen. Sanders has and compiled a bigger net delegate lead in those primaries by a lot, than he has.”

Sanders held a 5-point advantage over Clinton in a Fox Business poll conducted March 28-30 and has spent a significant amount of time and energy traversing Wisconsin in search of votes the final week of the campaign.

Both candidates held events in Wisconsin over the weekend, but only Sanders stuck around Monday, while Clinton, after two events in the state on Saturday, headed to New York. Former President Bill Clinton campaigned on her behalf in Wisconsin on Friday.

Sanders has hammered away at Hillary Clinton’s past support for free-trade deals, including at a stop in Janesville on Monday. At that gathering, he decried the moving of the oldest General Motors plant in the country to Mexico eight years ago, resulting in the loss of jobs for 2,800 workers. Sanders has also brought up her Wall Street ties on multiple occasions.

Tensions between the two camps have ratcheted up with Sanders’ criticism.

While campaigning in her adopted home state of New York last Thursday, Clinton admonished an activist who criticized her on donations to her campaign from oil and gas lobbyists. “I do not have — I have money from people who work for fossil fuel companies. I am so sick — I am so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about me,” an irritated Clinton said while wagging her finger. “I’m sick of it.”

A top Sanders aide responded that Clinton couldn’t handle the truth. “He’s talking about her record. He’s talking about her practices. She obviously doesn’t like it, but that doesn’t make it lying because you don’t like it,” campaign manager Jeff Weaver told MSNBC.

There was also squabbling between the camps over the timing of a debate before the New York primary. The campaigns on Monday ultimately settled on April 14, but Sanders was forced to reschedule a rally planned for that evening.

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