The most raucous nominating contest of an already acrimonious season drew to a close Monday with a flurry of retail politicking in New York that appeared likely to strengthen the trajectory of the two front-runners.
Democrat Hillary Clinton spent the day reaching out to New Yorkers one handshake and one neighborhood at a time. She stopped by a hospital cafeteria in Yonkers, met with workers at a unionized car wash in Queens and sipped “bubble tea” at Kung Fu Tea counter in Flushing.
Republican Donald Trump, meanwhile, appeared for a photo op at his own Trump Tower in Manhattan with a new “diversity coalition.” The group, representing many ethnic groups, is trying to fight accusations that Trump has stoked racial and ethnic tensions with his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Polls have shown both front-runners ahead by double-digit margins before Tuesday’s New York primary. A big win for Trump would bring him closer to winning an outright majority of Republican delegates – an outcome that remains in jeopardy and that has prompted rival Ted Cruz to mount a spirited campaign to force a contested convention.
For Clinton, a victory would give her a boost of momentum and perhaps a new mandate to more openly pivot her campaign to prepare for the general election. Unlike Trump, Clinton is so far ahead in the delegate count against Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) that it has become close to impossible for him to catch up.
“I am hoping to do really well tomorrow,” Clinton said at Mikey Likes It Ice Cream in Manhattan’s East Village. “I am hoping to wrap up the Democratic nomination.”
The Sanders campaign has played down his prospects in New York, citing the state’s closed primary, which doesn’t allow the participation of independents. But Sanders has drawn tens of thousands of supporters at rallies in recent days, and he spent much of Monday shaking hands during a series of unannounced appearances around New York City. He was scheduled to appear at a large rally in Queens in the evening.
Sanders strolled down the Avenue of the Americas on Monday morning, greeting surprised Manhattanites over the course of 15 city blocks. The scene repeated itself in the mid-afternoon in the Bronx, where the senator posed for dozens of selfies with bystanders during a walk with his entourage in a busy retail district. He also visited a public housing project in the Bronx, where he said a shuttered playground and community center were unacceptable “in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.”
Sanders said what he saw was an example of the nation’s misplaced priorities.
“Want to talk about crazy, crazy is that we have more people in jail in the United States of America than any other country on earth,” he said. “It seems to me a lot more sensible, a lot more humane, a lot more cost-effective to invest in our children, to invest in recreation, to invest in community centers, to make sure that kids have the education they need.”
Clinton has tailored her message in New York to her tenure as the state’s senator for eight years, calling upon voters to remember the work that she did on her behalf. But she has also sought to use Trump and New York’s diversity to make a sweeping case that the primary – and the election on a whole – is about a choice between her vision for the future and Trump’s divisive rhetoric.
“I am so proud of New York,” Clinton said. “Lady Liberty stands in our harbor. We are a city of immigrants, a state of immigrants and a nation of immigrants.”
At a campaign event in Midtown Manhattan, where she was joined by a slate of female leaders that included Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Clinton hit both Trump and Sanders simultaneously. She criticized Trump for suggesting that women should be punished for seeking abortions and Sanders for suggesting that Trump’s comments were a distraction.
“When Trump said what he said about punishing women, I was appalled,” Clinton said. “That was a core issue.
“When my opponent in this primary said it was a distraction and he wanted to talk about the real issues, I was appalled again.”
Trump has crisscrossed the state in recent days. Over the weekend, he held campaign events in Staten Island and in Poughkeepsie, where he accused Cruz of being dishonest and too close to special interests. He also highlighted his message of economic populism. He was scheduled to hold a rally in Buffalo later Monday.
Like Sanders, Cruz is bracing for a loss in New York, polling behind not only Trump in recent surveys but also Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose only primary victory so far came in his home state.
On Monday, Cruz was already looking ahead to a string of upcoming contests in Eastern states, including Maryland, which will vote next week. The senator from Texas spent Monday bouncing between New York and Maryland, where he held a rally at an American Legion hall in the Baltimore suburb of Towson. Cruz held a private meeting with GOP leaders in New York Monday ahead of an evening fundraiser at the Harvard Club.
In Maryland,he told supporters that he expects the state to have an “outsized voice” as “the nation is looking to Maryland to decide: Do we nominate Donald Trump and hand the election to Hillary Clinton, or do we unite behind the Cruz campaign and beat Hillary Clinton?”
For Trump, a strong victory in New York could help him recover from several recent setbacks. Earlier this month, he lost the Wisconsin primary to Cruz amid a series of controversies over women’s issues that many critics hoped represented a break in the wave of populist momentum buoying his candidacy.
The campaign also struggled to secure delegates in states, including Wyoming and Colorado, that require deep organization on the ground to secure favorable delegate slates. Cruz, meanwhile, has built up such organizations across the country, resulting in the selection of delegates who favor him. Many of these delegates will be bound to vote for Trump on a first ballot. But if Trump fails to secure an outright majority at the national convention, these delegates would be free to vote for Cruz on a second ballot.
Trump has been locked in an escalating feud with the Republican National Committee over the issue and has accused the RNC of stacking the race against him.
“Nobody has better toys than I do. I can put them on the best planes and bring them to the best resorts anywhere in the world,” Trump said in Staten Island Sunday. “You’re basically saying, ‘Delegate, listen, we’re going to send you to Mar-a-Lago on a Boeing 757, you’re going to use the spa, you’re going to do this, you’re going to do that, we want your vote.’ That’s a corrupt system.”
Even with the prospect of a contested convention in July hanging over Trump, his campaign appears to be pivoting to a more organized posture ahead of a potential general-election battle. Trump has empowered Paul Manafort to lead the final stretch of the primary season as “convention manager” and also hired Rick Wiley, a political veteran, as national political director. Manafort and Wiley are expected to help Trump bridge divisions with the Washington establishment if he wins the nomination.
Trump has also homed in on Clinton in campaign events across New York and unrolled a new moniker for the former secretary of state: “crooked Hillary.”
“We don’t vote too much in this country, the percentage is extremely low,” Trump said in Poughkeepsie on Sunday evening. “Trump versus Clinton will be the biggest voter turnout in the history of our country. Everybody says it.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Jose A. DelReal