- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 17, 2016

Bernard Sanders and Hillary Clinton took very different paths heading into the New York primary Tuesday, with the senator from Vermont meeting with Pope Francis and railing against income inequality during a visit to the Vatican and the former first lady raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars at a Hollywood fundraiser.

The contrast over the past several days in many ways is a microcosm of the Democratic presidential primary. Critics, including Mr. Sanders, paint Mrs. Clinton as a creature of the political establishment, a candidate reliant on big-money donations from Wall Street tycoons and Hollywood A-listers.

Mr. Sanders, on the other hand, is seen by some as a candidate perhaps equally interested in promoting a message as he is in politics itself, evidenced by the fact that he put his campaign schedule on hold to fly to the Vatican just days before New York Democrats go to the polls.

The senator appears to be headed for defeat in that crucial election. Most New York polls show Mrs. Clinton with a double-digit lead, though a survey by One America News Network and Gravis Marketing, a nonpartisan research firm, released Sunday afternoon shows Mrs. Clinton up by just 6 points, 53 percent to 47 percent. The poll was conducted two weeks ago.

A lopsided defeat in New York would crush the narrative that the momentum is on Mr. Sanders’ side and would put him even farther behind in the all-important delegate race.

But a loss wouldn’t diminish the fact that Mr. Sanders’ message — with a focus on how money is hurting the American political system — is having a real impact.

Even famous, wealthy Clinton supporters now acknowledge that Mr. Sanders is right in decrying money in politics.

“I think it’s an obscene amount of money. I think that, you know, we had some protesters last night when we pulled up in San Francisco, and they’re right to protest. They’re absolutely right. It is an obscene amount of money,” actor George Clooney told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an interview taped Saturday, a night after he hosted a fundraiser for Mrs. Clinton. “The Sanders campaign, when they talk about it, is absolutely right. It’s ridiculous that we should have this kind of money in politics. I agree completely.”

Mr. Sanders — who stresses that he is a huge fan of Mr. Clooney — used Friday night’s fundraiser to again draw clear distinctions between himself and Mrs. Clinton. His campaign has appealed to supporters to donate in an effort to compete with the Clinton money machine.

He continued that line of attack Sunday.

“The bottom line here is how do you revitalize American democracy. I don’t think you do that by raising money from the top 1 percent and then say to working-class people, or the middle class, I’m here to represent you,” he said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” program. “That kind of doesn’t pass the laugh test.”

Mr. Sanders made the comments less than 48 hours after he addressed a Vatican conference on environmental, economic and social justice. After that speech, he had a brief meeting with Pope Francis, whom he called “one of the great leaders in modern world history.”

“He’s a beautiful man,” Mr. Sanders said. “I am not a Catholic, but there is a radiance that comes from him. It was very wonderful to meet him.”

Mrs. Clinton rejects the idea that she is tied too closely to Wall Street and Hollywood. In her own interview on “This Week,” she said her call for a higher national minimum wage — she supports raising the wage to $12 an hour, while Mr. Sanders wants it hiked to $15 — is proof that she also is fighting for the middle class.

“I think at the end of the campaign that is certainly hard-fought, there are going to be a lot of charges and all kinds of misrepresentations, but I don’t think voters are confused by that,” she said.

Heading into the New York primary, Mrs. Clinton has a commanding lead in the delegate race. She leads Mr. Sanders 1,758 to 1,076, according to an Associated Press tally. Those totals include Democratic superdelegates, party leaders who are free to support either candidate.

It takes 2,383 delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination.

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