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Politics

Three candidates vie for bragging rights: Who’s the real New Yorker?

Bernie Sanders in New York

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks on April 10 at a rally on the Coney Island boardwalk in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

(Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

Yes, there are all those delegates at stake in the April 19 New York presidential primaries.

But for three of the five candidates, there’s even more on the line: bragging rights.

They either were born in New York (Bernie Sanders) or live in the state (Hillary Clinton), or both (Donald Trump).

Clinton has another claim: She was twice elected to the U.S. Senate from New York and she won the state’s 2008 presidential primary against Barack Obama.

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“Here we are.… I’m back again,” Clinton said when she strode into the Jackson Diner in Queens.

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“I had the honor of representing this state for eight years,” she said, a line she has repeated at practically every campaign stop this week. “I have a lot of friends, places I’ve been, people I’ve worked with in the past.”

During visits Sunday to three African American churches in Queens, she spoke knowingly about the pastors’ wives, children and, in one case, father.

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At the Greater Allen Cathedral, the Rev. Floyd Flake — the pastor and a former congressman — recalled sitting in Clinton’s house 25 years ago as her husband, then the little-known former governor of Arkansas, was forming his first presidential campaign.

“This is a woman that I trust, have faith in,” Flake told congregants at the 23,000-member church. “This is not her first time in this place.”

For some, that apparently doesn’t always count as much as her Illinois birthplace: In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Monday, voters said Trump was the “real New Yorker.” He won on that question with 41%, compared with 25% for Sanders and 23% for Clinton.

Clinton had the solace of easily leading a potential general election matchup against Trump, as well as holding a big lead over Sanders in the Democratic primary race; Trump led among Republicans in his party’s primary. At stake are 95 Republican delegates and 291 Democratic delegates.

The New York race has proved there is almost no pander too embarrassing to try.

In a high-level effort, at least for Yankees fans, Republican candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich floated the team’s widely acclaimed and much-missed retired shortstop, Derek Jeter, as a potential running mate.

Candidates have careened around the boroughs, reporters and cameras in tow. Sanders spoke in Brooklyn, not far from where he grew up, in sight of Manhattan’s iconic Empire State Building; Clinton, who lives in the bedroom suburb of Chappaqua, took the No. 4 subway in the Bronx.

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Upstate, Sanders hit a host of college campuses, places his message tends to resonate. Clinton chatted with diners at a revered sandwich shop in Buffalo, the kind of blue-collar stop that works for her, and where, of course, she reminded folks it was not her first visit.

The three New Yorkers have a method of appeal lost to Kasich and the other Republican candidate, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: the trip down memory lane.

Sanders, the senator from Vermont, stood on the famed boardwalk at Coney Island on Sunday and reminisced about his childhood in Brooklyn.

“Thank you, Brooklyn,” he said to a roar from thousands of supporters. “It is beautiful to be back in the place where I was born.”

“When I was a kid, we used to go swimming right around here,” he said, gesturing toward the nearby beach. “I think I’ve eaten half the hot dogs produced here.”

After he finished speaking, he walked to nearby Nathan’s Famous, where he bought a hot dog topped with mustard and sauerkraut and ate it in full view of the cameras, always a risky proposition for a candidate.

Clinton was more careful at Junior’s Cheesecake, another campaign favorite in Brooklyn. She looked longingly at a piece but declined to sample it.

“I learned early on not to eat in front of all of you,” she told reporters.

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Sanders’ relationship with one of the major industries in New York is a bit testy. He spends much of every speech accusing Wall Street and the financial industry of contributing to a “rigged” economy and a “corrupt” campaign finance system.

When he hits Clinton for receiving support from Wall Street firms, he’s including money from everyone from chief executives to entry-level workers, a pretty broad group of voters to impugn.

Not surprisingly, Trump — a lifelong New York resident, unlike Clinton or Sanders — has forcefully claimed the state as home turf.

Although much of what the billionaire businessman says seems calculated for effect, he summons what appears to be real anger when he attacks Cruz for denouncing “New York values” at a GOP debate in January.

“Do you remember during the debate when he started lecturing me on ‘New York values’?” Trump asked at a campaign event in Bethpage on Long Island. “Like we’re no good! Like we’re no good!”

The audience of New Yorkers booed. Trump also mocked Cruz for drawing a small crowd when he visited a matzo bakery in Brooklyn, where he rolled out the unleavened bread and sang a Passover song, part of his attempt to woo Orthodox Jewish voters

Then, as he had during the January debate, Trump said that real New York values emerged after the terrorist attack against the city’s World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001. (A few days later, he made the point more visceral when he visited the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, which sits on part of the former trade center site.)

“We all lived through it; we all know people that died,” Trump said. “And I’ve got this guy standing over there looking at me, talking about New York values with scorn on his face, with hatred — with hatred of New York. I think you can forget about him.”

He enunciated that last sentence. He could have just said: Fuggedaboudit.

cathleen.decker@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter: @cathleendecker. For more on politics, go to latimes.com/decker.

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