For the Democrats, everything hinges on New York.
The third largest state in terms of the electoral vote (after California and Texas), New York has been staunchly Democratic in recent presidential elections, and in this primary season the Empire State will redefine the Sanders-Clinton competition.
Hillary Clinton’s wins in March have given her a huge delegate lead over Bernie Sanders: barring any shift in Hillary’s huge advantage among super delegates, Sanders will need to win the remaining states with over 60% wins to undo Hillary’s advantage. The Senator from Vermont has certainly exceeded expectations, but his inability to seize larger states like Florida, Texas, and Ohio has left him with a considerable delegate shortfall.
So here comes New York. Hillary enjoys a lead in polls of around 12%, but Senator Sanders has been closing the gap in recent weeks, and has demonstrated in primaries and caucuses through the country that he is not to be underestimated.
For Hillary Clinton New York carries almost as much emotional importance as political: she served as Senator here twice from 2001, and to lose what is essentially her home state would be a damning indictment.
Secretary Clinton will be seeking to capitalise on her advantage in the African American and Orthodox Jewish communities. Outside of the metropolitan centre, Clinton is hoping that she can rekindle her working class support in Upstate New York. However, the area has suffered from the decline in manufacturing seen across the United States, and whether Clinton can reconnect with these voters is a question that could have national implications.
Meanwhile, Sanders has set his sights on Brooklyn. Home to just under a million registered Democrats, of a state-wide Democratic registry of 5.8 million, Brooklyn represents a large slice of the New York vote. It is also the area where Bernie Sanders grew up, and the Senator is hoping to capitalise on his home-grown credentials.
More broadly, the Senator from Vermont is hoping his message of economic populism will resonate with younger liberals across the state, and has peppered his speeches with references to the Panama Papers tax-avoidance scandal as further evidence of the corruption in the current financial system.
The race has also taken a bitter turn in New York, with the candidates trading barbs over whether they are qualified to be President. Hillary Clinton dodged the question of Sanders’ fitness for the job in an interview, and the Senator responded by outright claiming that Clinton’s poor judgement in cases like the Iraq vote precluded her from the job.
Sanders’ gradual recourse to attacking Hillary Clinton is a result of his own slow realisation of his own competitiveness. Early on Bernie believed that he had little chance of winning the Democratic nomination, and was satisfied with essentially being a message candidate, exerting a pulling force on Hillary’s left. It is likely that Bernie has himself been surprised by his viability, and now his nomination is no longer a fantasy he is willing to take swipes at his rival to cling to the race. As the likelihood of his nomination has increased, his attacks on Hillary have consequently become sharper.
Speaking to his supporters, Sanders taunted “Do not tell Secretary Clinton — she’s getting a little nervous, and I don’t want her to get more nervous — but I believe we’ve got an excellent chance to win New York.”
Clinton has not recoiled from the attacks. After Bernie blundered an interview with the New York Daily News, on how exactly his Wall Street Reform would work, the former Secretary of State argued “He’d been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hadn’t really studied or understood, and that does raise a lot of questions.”
The battle over New York has forced Hillary Clinton to shift her attention away from Donald Trump back to her Democratic competitor. In March Clinton sought to move the focus of her criticisms onto the real estate mogul, essentially implying that the Democratic race had been settled and that she was preparing to take on the polarising billionaire. The endurance of the Sanders campaign has made this manoeuvre appear premature, and once again Clinton is compelled to defend her record against the democratic-socialist Senator.
After New York
The importance of New York is twofold. On the one hand there is the sheer reality of the delegates on offer: whereas Wyoming, which Sanders won on April 9th, carried 14 delegates, New York offers a total of 291. If Sanders loses New York by more than 5%, his delegate calculations become unrealistic to defeat Clinton. A Clinton victory of more than 10% would all but knock Bernie out.
At the same time, New York is perhaps even more influential in terms of shaping the narrative of the Democratic race. If Bernie can hold Clinton to an effective draw, or even win New York, suddenly the media narrative of this race will swing in his favour as the candidates move into the New England states of late April. A strong showing in New York may enable the momentum of Bernie Sanders to break through the mathematical advantage of Hillary Clinton.
Whatever the result, New York is certain to change the tone of the Democratic race after April 19th.