Why Hillary Clinton is favored in the New York primary

Hillary_Clinton_official_Secretary_of_State_portrait_cropNext week there arrives a clarifying moment for the Democratic nomination fight. All current polling shows Clinton over 50%, with an average 14 point lead over Sanders.

The first fact is more important, since it’s harder to move voters already with a candidate. Sanders continues to do poorly with some significant voting blocs.The NBC/Wall St./Marist poll has him getting 28% of the black vote and 38% of women’s votes.

In New York a whopping 247 pledged delegates are up for grabs, awarded proportionately. The following week will also be important. April 19 and 26 include a trove of 753 delegates in New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Sen. Sanders is currently 219 pledged delegates behind Hillary Clinton and, to win a majority of those, he needs to get 57% of the rest of the delegates. Even a tie in New York would make that harder. A Sanders loss there, particularly one with a solid margin, really closes the door, absent some sort of complete Clinton collapse it’s hard to foresee.

What’s going on in New York?

One way to look at New York is to see it as explained by the key factors that have mattered through this nomination fight: demographics and the type of process voters use.

Clinton tends to win states where those circumstances are good for her — a population with a high percent of African-Americans and a primary, preferably a closed primary, where Democrats pick their nominee.

Sanders does well in states with other circumstances — a lower percent of African-American voters and either a caucus (that’s best for him) or a open primary where independents and Democrats vote. In fact, that’s a great way to understand what’s unfolded so far.

The critical role of demographics and means of selecting delegates undermines claims that momentum matters. Early primaries can spark learning about candidates. But the major dynamic of the 2016 Democratic nomination race is that sets of states with different circumstances have come in clusters, giving each candidate a series of wins.

But there’s more that helps Clinton in New York. She has a recognition of all parts of New York, a record, and relationships.

New Yorkers know Hillary Clinton. They elected Clinton as U.S. Senator with 55% in 2000 and 67% in 2008. Her job approval in December 2008 was 71% among New Yorkers, including 84% of NY Democrats.

When she first ran for the Senate, in a campaign managed by now New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Clinton went all over the state on a listening tour. She met all sorts of people and kept in touch after being elected as their senator. Her record is being reiterated through New York. For example, when Clinton was introduced at a Buffalo event last week, the speaker talked about how Sen. Clinton helped the university develop a biomedical center.

Clinton’s ads are New York-centric.

Here’s one that’s not so different from what you might see in a Senate campaign, talking about projects in the Finger Lakes, Albany, Rochester and elsewhere.

And Clinton’s first New York ad went after Republican Donald Trump (not her challenger Bernie Sanders). Clinton turned “New York values,” a label disparagingly used by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, into a praise for diversity, unity and working together. It has a little humor but mostly a rat-tat-tat energy, pushed forward with a New York pace.

Sanders has a few New York themed ads, too.

He’s also outspending Clinton on the air, with “$2.3 million in ads, versus $1.2 million for Hillary Clinton,” making Sanders “the biggest overall spender in New York.”

The below ad is a recut of a widely praised ad he put out before the Iowa caucuses. It includes Simon and Garfunkel’s “America,” with the new version adding greater diversity and some New York scenes. (By the way, the Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel first played together in a sixth grade performance as schoolmates in Queens.)

It’s lovely but has less substantive content than the first Clinton ad above and delivers less of a sharp message than the second one.

This other Sanders ad has a darker feel and combines mentions of some Sanders policies stands with saying “New York values. We’re all in this together.” That’s a strong message but doesn’t have the upbeat energy of the second Clinton ad above.

Because Sanders doesn’t have the New York record Clinton does, his ads can’t mention any of his accomplishments there.

Clinton is helped by the relationships she’s built over many years.

Take Brooklyn, a borough of New York that was its own city until it consolidated with the rest of New York City in 1898. Brooklyn is the largest borough, with 2.6 million people and a density of nearly 37,000 people per mile.

It has lots and lots of Democrats.

As the New York Times notes: Of the three million people registered to vote as Democrats in New York City, about 945,600 live in Brooklyn, meaning the borough — the most populous in the city — is home to a significant portion of the 5.8 million Democrats registered across the state.

It’s also quite diverse, with many differing communities, many of which know her well.

Mrs. Clinton’s advantage in the borough was on display at the Christian Cultural Center in East New York, one of the largest evangelical churches in the city, which claims over 37,000 members — one of three churches she visited that day. The church is regularly visited by political leaders, particularly during election season. The Rev. A. R. Bernard, the church’s pastor, introduced Mrs. Clinton, saying that he had known her for more than 20 years and that the country needed “someone in power who knows how to manage that delicate balance between maintaining order and stability and fighting for justice and equality.”

Now, Hillary Clinton isn’t originally from New York. In Maine, she’d be called “from away.” Bernie Sanders was born in Brooklyn but hasn’t lived there for forty-eight years. Given this, it’s Hillary Clinton who has developed relationships.

While there certainly are Sanders supporters and volunteers in Brooklyn, he doesn’t have the depth and breath of connections.

Mrs. Clinton’s strengths also include longtime relationships with the borough’s Orthodox Jewish and Caribbean-American communities; several leaders in those communities said they had yet to hear from the Sanders campaign.

Rabbi David Niederman, president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, said that late last year a friend called him asking him to support Mr. Sanders. He responded that he wanted to learn more; he had supported Mrs. Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary. Rabbi Niederman said he had never heard from the Sanders campaign directly and eventually decided to vote for Mrs. Clinton again after speaking with her twice.

“At this point, I have a candidate whom I know, who has worked very well, who understands the general needs of the country, who understands and respects the Jewish communities and other communities’ religions and rights,” he said. “And that is somebody that I am on a personal level going to support.”
Clinton is looking good for the New York primary. We’ll have to see how the votes go on April 19. But for now, you’d think she’s in a New York state of mind, feeling fine.

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.