The Big Apple Goes With the Home Team

Robert Borosage

There’s no place like home. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton won big last night in their home state of New York. Trump won 60.5 percent of the vote and 88 delegates, with John Kasich a distant second and New Yorkers giving Ted Cruz a good taste of their values – and a goose egg in delegates. Clinton beat Sanders 57.9 percent to 42.1 percent, adding a net of about 72 delegates to her total.

Sanders came into New York on a roll, having won seven straight primaries. He had moved into a tie with her among Democrats nationally. But New York was set up for Clinton. She’s run and won statewide twice as U.S. senator. She beat Obama there handily in 2008. She had the endorsement of the entire Democratic Party apparatus from the governor on down.

The New York primary is closed, so only registered Democrats could vote. Worse, the deadline for registering was weeks before the primary and, for switching party ID, last October, before most New Yorkers even knew when the primary was. That insured that the many independents, young and third-party members of the Working Families Party couldn’t vote for Sanders. Sanders won nearly 72 percent voters who described themselves as independent last night, but they constituted only 14 percent of the electorate, according to NBC exit polls.

The strengths and weaknesses of the two candidates remained constant. Sanders won young voters; Clinton seniors. Sanders won white men; Clinton did better among white women than usual. Sanders was unable to break into Clinton’s hold on African American voters. Latinos went 64-36 for Clinton. Clinton won those focused on who was more electable and experienced; Sanders won those focused on who was more honest and more caring about “people like me.”

Democrats ranked the economy as their biggest concern, with nearly half very worried about it. They split on whether trade costs or creates jobs. Clinton’s tactic of wrapping herself in Obama worked: half of Democrats said they wanted to continue Obama’s policies, only four in 10 said they wanted more liberal policies. By 64 to 29, New York Democrats thought Wall Street hurt rather than helped the economy. Sanders won nearly 60 percent of those who thought it hurt.

One contrast between the parties was stark. Seven in 10 New York Democrats believe the primary battles have energized rather than divided the party. Whereas by 57-39, Republicans thought their primary battles have divided the party rather than energized it.  Democrats want the debate to go on; Republicans want the nightmare to end.

Clinton won last night, but as Dan Balz detailed in the Washington Post, she has become increasingly unpopular with voters. Her negatives now outweigh her positives by a stunning 24 percent points; only Donald Trump fares worse (minus 41 percent). Sanders, meanwhile, is a net positive nine points. Clinton’s image is at or near record lows among major demographic groups. Among men, she is at minus 40, among women minus nine. Among white men, a stark minus 72.

The Clinton campaign tends to blame Sanders for her decline. Chief Clinton campaign strategist Joel Benenson issued a preposterous cheap shot, suggesting Sanders had to decide whether he would be a Ralph Nader and hurt the Democratic Party “up and down the ticket.” Benenson apparently hasn’t noticed that unlike Nader, Sanders has been running and winning inside the Democratic Party primaries. And the attacks that Benenson objects to – on the corrosive effect of big money in politics – concern something that Democrats claim to be against.

It isn’t Sanders who made the decision to pocket millions from Wall Street banks while claiming to be a big reformer. It isn’t Sanders that decided to set up fundraising schemes on the far edge of the law to rake in big contributions. It isn’t Sanders who chose to make himself into the candidate of continuity at a time of change.

The Clinton complaints will escalate as they try to build pressure on Sanders to get out of the race.  But the real question isn’t whether Bernie Sanders is Ralph Nader; it is whether Clinton can avoid being Al Gore, an unhappy candidate blowing a race that should be won. Luckily, Republicans seem intent on imploding – and Americans aren’t about to elect Donald Trump to the presidency.

The New York Times – which has been pretty brutal to Sanders in its coverage of the campaign – led with an editorial urging Sanders (and Kasich) to stay in the race. Sanders will and should take his message to the very end. The odds against Sanders winning have grown tougher, but they aren’t nearly as long as they were when the race started.

Sanders is driving fundamental issues – from money in politics, to Wall Street, to tuition free education, sensible trade policies, a $15 minimum wage and national health care into the debate. He has amassed far greater votes than any insurgent candidate in modern Democratic Party history. He is energizing the young. He’s only begun to reach into communities of color – and it is vital that he expand efforts to take his message into those communities. He’s got more victories to come – and he’ll continue to drive the debate.

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