New York restores order for 2016 front-runners

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump scored resounding wins in New York Tuesday. The results underscored Bernie Sanders's limitations, but still leave much to play for in the GOP race. 

Kathy Willens/AP
Former President Bill Clinton (l.) applauds, as his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, celebrates after winning the New York state primary Tuesday in New York.

This time it was personal.

On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton emphatically underlined her front-runner status and won a resounding victory over her previously surging rival, revealing the limits of Bernie Sanders’s rally-based campaign and his focus on anti-Wall Street economic populism.

Mrs. Clinton won the New York primary by nearly 16 percentage points – an unexpectedly wide margin of victory crafted by assembling a diverse coalition of Democratic voters.   

Clinton had come to New York weeks ago, campaigning during a stretch in which Senator Sanders of Vermont had been reeling off convincing wins in eight of the previous nine contests.

Sanders’s momentum included his massive, record-setting rallies in New York, Hollywood star power, and the enthusiasm of tens of thousands of young and boisterous supporters during the past two weeks. And in many national polls, Sanders had all but erased the former secretary of State’s lead of nearly 15 percentage points in February.  

Clinton, however, kept it small and local throughout the campaign, fanning out into the state’s Democratic establishment bases. She danced Dominican bachata at a block party in Washington Heights, played dominoes with locals in Harlem, sipped Chinese bubble tea in Queens.

She pressed the flesh with local officials at organizing events, visited black churches throughout the state, and bored into local concerns – just like she had when she twice ran for the United States Senate here. In a closed primary – where only registered Democrats could vote – the strategy worked. 

“Today you proved once again, there’s no place like home,” Clinton said during her victory party at the Sheridan near Times Square, beaming and with an almost palpable sense of relief. “In this campaign, we’ve won in every region of the country,” she continued. “But this one’s personal. New Yorkers, you’ve always had my back. And I’ve always tried to have yours.”

Trump's triumph

Just a few blocks away at Trump Tower in Manhattan, billionaire Donald Trump reestablished his role as the Republican front-runner, also winning the New York primary in dramatic – if expected – fashion with nearly 60 percent of the vote and taking at least 89 of the 95 delegates at stake.

Mr. Trump, too, had stumbled in recent weeks as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas had strategically outmaneuvered his campaign, which relies on big rallies to galvanize followers. Senator Cruz had swept up all the delegates from the Colorado Republican convention earlier in April and continued to pick up stray delegates even in states the real estate mogul had received a majority of votes.

The GOP leader had been decrying the party’s delegate system, calling it rigged against outside candidates like him. But New York voters overwhelmingly chose the Queens-born billionaire, giving new life to his hope of winning a majority of delegates before the convention in Cleveland.

"We don't have much of a race anymore," Trump told his supporters in his victory speech in the Trump Tower lobby. "We're going to go into the convention I think as the winner," saying Cruz was "just about mathematically eliminated."

To the contrary, the math still shows a steep climb for Trump to get the 1,237 delegates he needs to avoid a contested convention. The latest estimate by NBC News suggests Trump will need to win about 57 percent of the remaining delegates to reach 1,237. To this point, he's secured 47 percent of the delegates on offer, according to a Politico tally.

For both Cruz and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, as well as the #NeverTrump establishment forces within the GOP, the strategy remains to deny Trump a majority of delegates and then take their chances within a contested convention.

Hillary's math

On the Democratic side, however, Clinton is more and more poised to become the nominee. The NBC estimate suggests she now needs to win less than 33 percent of the remaining delegates (including super delegates) to secure the nomination. To this point, she's won 59 percent of the delegates on offer, according to Politico.

"We started this race not far from here on Roosevelt Island," Clinton said during her victory speech. "And tonight, a little less than a year later, the race for the Democratic nomination is in the home stretch and victory is in sight."

Sanders had hoped a victory here – or even a closely-contested loss on Clinton’s adopted home turf – would further damage the front-runner. His campaign spent nearly $2 million more in television ads than Clinton’s, and Sanders and his followers had ramped up their criticisms, questioning her ties to Wall Street and past support for harsh criminal justice measures.  

The Vermont senator traveled to Pennsylvania for a rally at a college on Tuesday, but in the evening he flew home to Burlington, Vt. – without his press entourage – to get “recharged and take a day off.”

“Bernie Sanders got very negative attacking Hillary Clinton and dividing the party in New York, and I think he now has to ask himself if he wants to keep going down that path,” said Jay Jacobs, the Democratic chairman in Long Island’s suburban Nassau County, according to The New York Times. “After New York, we’re moving into a phase of the campaign where we have to start uniting the party.”

Sanders complained about the built-in advantages Clinton had as an establishment candidate. Since New York is a “closed” primary, independents and those registered with other parties had to re-register as Democrats by October of last year – well before Sanders began his surge.

But the same problems Sanders faced in New York will only multiply in the days ahead. Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania hold closed primaries next Tuesday. Moreover, the Vermont senator has performed best within states with few minority voters. Polls show that Clinton maintains significant leads in diverse states like Pennsylvania and Maryland, as well as Connecticut.

The Sanders campaign said it would “assess where we are” after those contests, the Associated Press reported late Tuesday.

And while many of Sanders’s young supporters had sometimes expressed deep animus towards Clinton, exit polls on Tuesday revealed that a vast majority of Democratic voters in New York would support either candidate in the general election.

“To all the people who supported Sen. Sanders,” a rejuvenated Clinton told her supporters Tuesday night, “I believe there is much more that unites us than divides us.”

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