15 April 2016

Trump and Clinton seek revival in the battle over “New York values”


Every now and then a politician says something which leaves them wide open: if not to a deadly blow, at least to a sharp strike of pain and embarrassment. Donald Trump had been waiting to inflict that punch on Senator Ted Cruz since January, and he took great pleasure in unleashing it at his Long Island rally last week.

In the heat of debate before the Iowa primary, Cruz had contemptuously denounced Trump for his “New York values,” trying to rally Iowa’s conservatives against the property tycoon. With all eyes now on New York ahead of the primary on April 19th, Trump sharply reminded the senator of his comments, who must have wished he could eat those words whilst being heckled by residents of the Bronx.

Trump’s home state, and its 95 delegates on offer, represent a big opportunity for his campaign to get back on track after being derailed by a damaging slump, including his rash comments on abortion and Cruz’s decisive victories in the winner-takes-all Colorado and Wisconsin primaries. Holding a commanding 33-point lead in the New York polls, Trump is hoping to edge closer towards the majority of delegates needed to win the nomination outright.

1,237 is the golden number, and the New Yorker’s campaign is well aware of how difficult it will be to attain the backing of the GOP if they fall short. Step in Cruz and Governor John Kasich. Despite harbouring few hopes for New York City, the pair have the potential to do better upstate, where many conservatives are wary of Manhattan, including the state capital Albany which Kasich’s state director Lynn Krogh believes is “ripe for the picking”. As opposed to a winner-takes-all contest, Trump needs more than 50% of the vote to win all three delegates in each congressional district. This paves the way for his rivals to weaken his delegate count: delegates which could make all the difference when the July convention’s first ballot goes to the wire.

Meanwhile, Senator Bernie Sanders is hoping to harness Democrats’ progressive values in the race against Hillary Clinton. Releasing an advert called ‘Bolder’, Brooklyn-born Sanders boasts of those “values forged in New York”, which Cruz poured scorn on, and tells New Yorkers that it’s in their nature to “think bigger”: urging them to vote beyond the status quo which Clinton is often seen to represent. Clinton’s campaign, meanwhile, is emphasising her achievements as Senator in ‘Every Corner’ of New York. On her home turf, Clinton defeated Obama comfortably in the 2008 primary, and is currently 14 points ahead of Sanders in the polls. Surely she can’t lose?

Judging by recent momentum, one would be foolish to discount anything. Clinton’s popularity in the polls has rapidly diminished in the past fortnight, from a lead of well over 30 points. Since then, Sanders has gained a great deal of momentum, winning eight of the past nine contests against Clinton. Also on the Vermont senator’s side is New York’s recent history of political upsets. The most significant of those came in September 2013 when the current New York Mayor Bill de Blasio went from rank outsider to winning the Democratic mayoral primary.

Sanders still faces an uphill struggle to catch up with Clinton’s number of delegates and superdelegates. The former Secretary of State only needs around half of the remaining vote to earn her majority and, with the proportional allocation of votes, it’s a very tough task to close such a gap. However, a win for Sanders in the critical New York primary could genuinely blow the race wide open.

New York’s delegates haven’t played such a significant role in deciding presidential nominees for many years. In the next week, candidates will be working flat out to convince their parties’ voters from around the state that they share their values. For Trump and Clinton, big wins in New York would give them back the momentum they need to reach an all-important majority.

Jack Graham is a video journalist and political commentator who specialises in American politics