What to Watch for in New York’s Primary

Apr 19, 2016

This has been an unusually big week for New York politics. The Empire State is holding its first competitive presidential primaries in decades — and three of the five remaining candidates have legitimate New York roots. 

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are poised to win their home state by solid margins. But while the final results may not be that close — especially on the Republican side — there are still some interesting twists to follow as voters head to the polls today.

Trump’s 50 percent problem

Donald Trump is all but assured to win the New York Republican primary. Trump entered today leading Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz by 30-plus points in the polls. Kasich and Cruz barely campaigned in the state in the days leading up to primary, all but ceding New York to Trump, who was born in Queens and lives in Manhattan. 

READ MORE: What does Donald Trump believe?

But Trump needs to capture at least 50 percent of the vote in order to receive a majority of the state’s 95 delegates. Trump currently has 744 delegates, roughly 200 more than Cruz (and 600 more than Kasich). At this point in the race, Trump needs every delegate he can get to have a shot at winning the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the party’s nomination on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention in July.

To clear 50 percent of the vote, Trump will need to win congressional districts in New York City and perform well in conservative counties in upstate New York. It won’t be easy: Trump has yet to win 50 percent of the vote in any GOP primary or caucus. The closest he’s come so far was in Massachusetts, where he captured 49.3 percent of the vote. 

Can Clinton run up the score?

New York is a big state for Clinton and Sanders, for different reasons. Clinton represented the state in the Senate for eight years, and lives in the Westchester suburb of Chappaqua. This is her home state (though Clinton also has roots in Arkansas and Illinois), a place where she can showcase the loyalty and support she’s built up over the years. 

READ MORE: What does Hillary Clinton believe

A double-digit win for Clinton would add to her already sizable delegate lead, and nearly put the nomination out of reach for Sanders. He entered the New York primary with a 600-plus deficit in pledged and superdelegates. Clinton has led Sanders by more than 10 points in most statewide polls leading up to Tuesday’s vote. 

But Sanders has closed the gap before, resulting in surprisingly close races in states like Iowa where he was not expected to be very competitive. The Clinton camp is hoping to avoid that this time around, and has brought out all the stops to ensure a solid performance on Tuesday. A victory would also end Sanders’ recent hot streak: he has won seven out of the last eight Democratic primaries and caucuses.

Does crowd size translate to turnout?

New York was always going to be a tough primary for Sanders, given Clinton’s close ties to the state. Sanders grew up in Brooklyn, but he left the borough more than five decades ago and has represented Vermont in Congress since the 1980s. Nevertheless, Sanders is hoping for a solid second-place finish driven by a large turnout among young voters in New York City, the state’s most reliably liberal area.

In the past week alone, Sanders has drawn more than 25,000 supporters to two New York City rallies — one in Washington Square Park, and the other in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on Sunday. Those crowds dwarfed the size of Clinton’s rallies around the state in the past week.

READ MORE: What does Bernie Sanders believe?

But will the same people who showed up in Prospect Park to hear Sanders speak on a sunny weekend afternoon go out and vote on Tuesday? In 2008, Barack Obama drew huge crowds around the country — and shattered Democratic primary turnout records in the process.
That year, nearly 1.9 million people voted in New York’s Democratic primary. Roughly 670,000 people voted in the Republican primary in 2008.

Ted Cruz vs. ‘New York values’

Cruz shot himself in the foot back in January when he criticized “New York values” at a GOP debate in South Carolina. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but fast-forward three months and it has become clear that Cruz is deeply unpopular with Republican voters across the state, both in New York City and conservative, rural counties upstate.

To be sure, New York was never Ted Cruz country. Trump is a well-known figure in New York, and the state’s Republican voters tend to be less conservative than Cruz. So a massive loss to Trump wouldn’t be a surprise.

READ MORE: What does Ted Cruz believe?

But Cruz is still vying for the Republican nomination, despite his sizable delegate disadvantage. To beat Trump, he’ll need to persuade delegates at the RNC in Cleveland that he has national appeal and can win moderate and independent voters in the general election. Criticizing New Yorkers and then suffering a blowout loss here won’t help his cause.

The disappearing John Kasich

John Kasich has been all but absent from the New York primary discussion. The Ohio governor made a campaign stop in Queens last week, and has held other events around the state. But he entered Tuesday trailing Trump by more than 30 points in the state, and the primary map doesn’t look any better for him in the next few weeks.

READ MORE: What does John Kasich believe?

Trump has a comfortable lead over Kasich (and Cruz) in the polls in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and other states with upcoming contests. So far, Kasich has only won his home state of Ohio. He has vowed to remain in the race. But the New York primary showed that Kasich has increasingly become a footnote in Trump and Cruz’s battle for the nomination.

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