Democratic debate: Is Clinton or Sanders the real New Yorker?

Tonight's televised event offers the Democratic hopefuls their last shared stage to define themselves and each other. Three topics are sure to crop up: experience, Wall Street ties, and New York-ness.

Wilfredo Lee/AP/File
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton enters the stage after a break in a March 9 debate with her rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, in Miami. Their final debate April 14 is likely to be their most definitive.

There’s a Democratic debate tonight in New York and it promises to be perhaps the definitive clash between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders of the entire 2016 campaign.

Why is that? Because the stakes are high: former Secretary of State Clinton continues to lead the race, but can’t shake the dogged Senator Sanders. And this is the last scheduled face-to-face meeting between the pair. It’s likely they’ll air all their differences over the course of two hours, beginning at 9 p.m. E.D.T. on CNN.

Time for the obligatory Odd Number List of Things to Watch For! We’ve scratched out three that are almost certain to come up; beyond that, predictions get chancy.

Who's the real New Yorker? Given that the New York primary is Tuesday, and the debate is in New York, and Sanders was born and raised in New York and Clinton was a New York Senator, we’re pretty sure there’s going to be a struggle over who’s the true New Yorker.

Edge: Sanders. He’s got more New York years, he’s got a New York accent, and he’s never professed fanship for the Chicago Cubs, as has Illinois native Clinton. Clinton’s best play might be to present herself as a New Yorker in the statewide sense – after all, she represented the state, not the city, in the Senate and spent lots of time in upstate towns.

Who's the most qualified to be president? Last week Sanders said Clinton was not “qualified” to sit in the Oval Office because her associated super PAC takes corporate contributions, she voted for the war in Iraq, and she supports free-trade agreements.

He’s since walked that back. He says it’s really her judgment that is at issue with these positions. 

Edge: Clinton. Yes, really. It’s “qualified” that’s the problem for Sanders. He disagrees vehemently on some policy issues with Clinton, but in terms of variety of presidential-prep job experience, the former congressional Watergate panel staffer, first lady, and national legislator has got more lines on her résumé than he does. She’ll likely bring up this jibe as a means to remind voters of all the jobs she’s had.

The $225,000 Verizon speech. Sanders hasn’t made an issue of Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail server while secretary of State. But he has attacked her over her personal ties to Wall Street, including her acceptance of big fees for speaking at bank and corporate events.

So expect him to bring up the $225,000 honorarium Clinton received in May 2013 for speaking at a Verizon event. (It was a big applause line at Sanders’s Wednesday night rally in Washington Square Park.) Unionized Verizon workers are on strike in New York, and both candidates have visited them in an attempt to show solidarity. Sanders will use the speech money to try and call into question the sincerity of Clinton’s appearance.

Edge: Sanders. She’s been asked about them for over a year, but Clinton still does not have a great answer as to why she raked in such big speech bucks, what she said to earn them, and whether they constitute a conflict of interest.

OK, enough with the politics-as-sports aspect of the program. Beyond that there is one large underlying factor to keep in mind while watching tonight’s debate. Sanders needs the dynamic of the race to change, or he will lose. Clinton is happy with the status quo.

As we’ve written before, that’s because Bernie needs blowout wins to have any hope of catching Hillary. He’s still hundreds of delegates behind, and Democrats award delegates proportionately, so he needs to sweep big states. And fast. Otherwise he’s got no hope of making up his delegate deficit.

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