Sen. Bernard Sanders’ native New York roots matter little as the state’s April 19 primary approaches, political analysts say, and all the pressure is on Hillary Clinton to score a decisive win next week in the state she represented in the U.S. Senate for eight years.
Both candidates in recent days have tried to out-New York one another, with Mrs. Clinton taking an awkward ride on a city subway and Mr. Sanders chowing down on a famous Coney Island hot dog.
But Mr. Sanders, despite being born and raised in Brooklyn, is playing outside his comfort zone in the Empire State, according to specialists. Mrs. Clinton’s strong organizational ties in New York, including endorsements from prominent Democrats such as Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, give her a great advantage.
Mr. Sanders also will be hurt by New York’s closed primary structure, which will prohibit independents — who have been key to the Vermont senator’s wins in states such as Michigan — from voting next week.
Those factors and others make it vital for Mrs. Clinton to not only win New York, but to win it handily and stop Mr. Sanders’ momentum dead in its tracks.
“She has the advantage here because she was the senator, she’s lived her, she’s a resident of New York. They know her,” said veteran New York Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “If the distance [of a Clinton win] is under 10 points, Democrats across the country will look at her questionably and Republicans will be dancing in the streets … The win should be significant.”
Right now, polls show Mrs. Clinton heading toward just such a victory. The latest Real Clear Politics average of all surveys gives Mrs. Clinton a 13-point edge over Mr. Sanders
That lead, however, has shrunk over the past six weeks. Some February polls, for example, showed her with a lead of more than 20 points.
The New York primary could be a turning point in the Democratic race. For Mrs. Clinton, it’s a key opportunity to slow Mr. Sanders’ march and dampen the enthusiasm of his supporters. The senator has won seven of the last eight primaries and caucuses, and a win or even a close loss in New York would keep the momentum on his side.
Pulling an upset win in New York could reset the Democratic race and put Mrs. Clinton on the defensive during the home stretch of the race.
“They both have a lot on the line. For Hillary, because of the recent string of losses, she has to change the narrative and resume the narrative of dominance, particularly going over into the key primaries in the Northeast,” said Bruce Miroff, political science professor at the State University of New York at Albany, referring not only to New York but upcoming contests in Pennsylvania, Maryland and elsewhere.
“The Sanders people have tried to spin this as Hillary needs to win by a comfortable margin or it’s going to be an embarrassment,” Mr. Miroff added.
Both campaigns are now clearly playing up their respective candidate’s New York ties.
Mr. Sanders campaign on Monday released an ad touting the senator’s “values forged in New York.”
“Brooklyn born. Native son who knows what we know: we’re all in this together,” the ad says.
Mrs. Clinton is making a slightly different pitch to New Yorkers, arguing they must support her if they want to stop Republican Donald Trump’s White House ambitions.
“Donald Trump says we can solve America’s problems by turning against each other. It’s wrong, and it goes against everything New York and America stand for,” Mrs. Clinton says in the New York ad released Monday.
Beyond ads, Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton are taking other steps to appeal to New Yorkers.
Last week, Mrs. Clinton rode the city subway, though she failed several times to swipe her MetroCard before boarding. The incident became fodder for a “Saturday Night Live” sketch last weekend.
Mr. Sanders, meanwhile, ate a hot dog on Coney Island Sunday with REM frontman Michael Stipe, who then introduced the senator before a Sunday evening campaign rally. Such stunts, specialists say, are necessary.
“It’s kind of like standing under the arch in St. Louis or going to the Alamo in Texas,” Mr. Sheinkopf said. “Every state has its own symbolic acts that have meaning and value.”