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2016 candidates face a cruel April

Dickerson on challenges facing 2016 candidate... 02:32

When T.S. Eliot wrote, "April is the cruelest month," he didn't have the nomination race in mind, but as the presidential race heads into its fourth month in 2016, a couple White House aspirants are likely to find Eliot's words apt.

In past races, April is often when the front-runners unofficially lock down the nomination as final challengers drop out. This was true in 2012, when Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum exited the race against Mitt Romney on April 10.

This is because after a slew of primaries in February and March, the race has entered a new phase: in April, while voting slows down significantly, activities like delegate selection at state conventions start to pick up instead and require candidates to focus their attention on those efforts as well. There's also a huge amount of pressure on GOP front-runner Donald Trump's rivals, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, to pick up as many delegates as they can in the remaining contests in order to deny him the nomination.

"Once you get to April you have to actually run a national campaign," said GOP consultant Brad Todd, previously an adviser to a super PAC supporting Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. "Despite what anyone tells you, the first year is all about Iowa and New Hampshire....Once you get to April you are now running a national campaign and that requires wider resources than most people have."

Candidates battle for Wisconsin delegates 02:04

Here are some of the challenges this new phase of the race brings for the five remaining 2016 hopefuls:

The map

There's no denying that March, with its frequent primaries and days with multiple states voting at once, gave candidates new opportunities to tout victories every few days and use those victories to pick up momentum and money along the way.

In March alone, 30 states, the District of Columbia and a handful of U.S. territories all cast their votes. Those states included big delegate prizes like Texas on March 1, Michigan on March 8 and Florida and Ohio on March 15 -- but also a handful of smaller states and caucus states that let the non-Trump candidates pick up a few wins of their own (think Cruz in a handful of Republican caucus states, for example, or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's win in the Minnesota caucuses).

This month, though, there are only eight states voting and only three major primary days, two of which have just one state voting: there's Wisconsin this Tuesday; New York on April 19; and Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island on April 26. (Wyoming's Democrats also vote on April 8.)

That slower pace continues through the final contest, the D.C. Democratic primary, on June 14: in May, six states plus Guam hold votes, while in June it's six states plus Democratic votes in D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The money

Running a campaign across the country is expensive, especially without new donors to fill a candidate's war chest. Because of the way campaign finance laws work, individual donors can give $2,700 over the course of the entire primary campaign. If you're a candidate who's been raising money since last year, there's a good chance that many of your reliable donors have already maxed out.

"You've already run way past your best fundraising sources, so you now have fundraising sources that are not nearly as solid for you," Todd said of the late spring primaries.

This is less an issue on the Democratic side, where Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders just announced his campaign raised $44 million in March. But it's a big part of, for example, why Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum dropped out of the 2012 race on April 10 of that year.

What usually happens, said Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, is that a candidate's "support starts to fade, their money fades, pretty soon they're running and can't afford to pay their hotel room."

Kasich spurns “Stop Trump” forces: They w... 03:22

This year, though, "insurgent candidates who people think ultimately probably can't win, like Bernie Sanders, can fuel their insurgency with tens of millions of dollars of small-dollar donations," he said. "Every time he wins a race, regardless of how small and insignificant it might be, it energizes his campaign."

On the Republican side this year, where there's a mad scramble to pick up as many delegates as possible going into the Cleveland convention, candidates are dealing with not only having to campaign across the country in primary states, but also needing to head to states that are beginning to hold their local and state conventions to select delegates. Ted Cruz, for example, went to North Dakota himself for the state's GOP convention over the weekend, while Republicans gathered to select their delegates for the national convention this summer.

The delegate fight introduces a whole other level of campaign organization--and a costly one, too, which campaigns on the GOP side now need to factor into their spending and fundraising.

The momentum

While typically the later months of the primaries are toughest on non-front-runners, April will also bring fresh challenges for Trump: namely his ability to use each new victory to gain momentum but also change the subject from tough questions.

Trump does damage control, trails in Wisconsi... 05:07

Last week, without any fresh primary wins to refresh the news cycle, he took heat for several major stories. First, the week began with a discussion of Trump's foreign policy views after a lengthy interview with the New York Times on the topic. Then, there was the news that his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was charged with battery in Florida for an incident with former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields. And next it was his comment to MSNBC's Chris Matthews that women should be "punished" for undergoing abortions, which Trump and his campaign spent the rest of the week "clarifying" and cleaning up.

In the past, Trump has been masterful at changing the subject every time he picked up a new primary victory or another big endorsement. With fewer of those going forward, combined with more speculation about whether he'll be able to clinch the nomination, it will be more difficult for him to keep the narrative on his terms.

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