Brooklyn native Bernie Sanders may sound like more of a New Yorker, and even look like more of a New Yorker, but he still faces a steep challenge in overcoming Hillary Clinton’s deep roots with Democrats in this crucial state that votes April 19.
“She may not always ‘tawk’ like we Brooklynites ‘tawk,’” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said as he laid on a thick hometown accent while introducing Clinton at a spirited rally at the iconic Apollo Theater in Harlem. “But when she speaks out, she changes minds, she changes hearts.”
The crowd delighted in Schumer’s reminder that Bill Clinton, who could have relocated anywhere in the world upon leaving the White House, adopted Harlem as his headquarters – not that the crowd needed any reminding.
It was Hillary Clinton, the former senator from the state, who helped lead New York in rebuilding after Sept. 11, they said. It was Clinton, they added, who was unyielding in support of gun control on behalf of an urban constituency that has little love for the National Rifle Assn., as Sanders sometimes wavered.
“I love her to death,” said Stanley Watt, an 81-year-old Harlem resident, reflecting an exuberance one does not often encounter at Clinton rallies.
“I love her more than anybody loves her, from the Senate to when she was a big shot in the, what do you call it? Oh yes, the secretary of State.”
Watt went on: “This is Bill Clinton’s home,” he exclaimed, pointing outside the theater. “He has an office right down there!”
The outpouring of adoration at the Apollo signaled what a tough challenge lies ahead for Sanders, even as he moves ahead of Clinton in Wisconsin, a state that votes next week. The most recent polling indicates Clinton is threatened there with a setback similar to the one she experienced early this month in another Midwestern state, Michigan.
Wisconsin’s leading poll, sponsored by Marquette University Law School, published new numbers Wednesday that showed Sanders leading 49%-45%.
Sanders continued his attacks on Clinton while campaigning there Wednesday, focusing on the international trade deals she has supported and the money she is raising from the financial industry and other corporations.
“We don’t represent Wall Street,” he said in the city of Kenosha. “We don’t represent the drug companies or fossil fuel industry. We don’t want their money.”
Another Rust Belt loss would be most unwelcome for the front runner, who is eager to sew up the nomination and focus her fire on Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz.
But more important to the race right now is the bigger prize of April, which is diverse, delegate-rich New York. A narrow Sanders victory in Wisconsin would net him a few more delegates than Clinton. By contrast, a decisive Clinton win in much-bigger New York would squelch most of the late momentum her challenger has garnered with his spurt of wins in smaller states.
Hillary Clinton and her top surrogate – her husband – already are campaigning aggressively in New York. The candidate has no more events planned in Wisconsin and may not even go back there before ballots are cast.
She is instead hitting the ground hard in New York, starting Wednesday by unveiling an ad that took direct aim at Trump and seeks to inspire the minority voters who have supported her overwhelmingly over Sanders and are at the root of the electoral coalition that propelled Barack Obama into the presidency.
The ad, which touts Clinton’s embrace of diversity and features an array of New Yorkers from different races and cultures, looks right past Sanders, except through the implicit suggestion that she is more in tune with issues of race than the Vermonter, who has struggled to make inroads with blacks and Latinos.
The villain in the spot is not her Democratic rival, but the Trump supporter who sucker punched an African American protester at a rally earlier this month.
“New Yorkers took a chance on me, and I will never forget that,” Clinton said at the Apollo. “You have always had my back and I’ve always tried to have yours.”
Clinton spoke with emotion about 9/11 and the urgent need to resist bigoted impulses in the aftermath of such tragedies, and she carefully drew contrasts between her approach and that of Sanders – mindful that she will need the support of his voters in the fall should she become the nominee.
“Some folks may have the luxury to hold out for the perfect,” she said. “But a lot of Americans are hurting and they can’t afford to wait for that. They need the good, and they need it today.”
Then she added a distinctly New York variation to her “progressive who gets things done” slogan.
“My opponent says we are just not thinking big enough,” she said. “Well, this is New York. Nobody dreams bigger than we do. But this is a city that likes to get things done.”
Clinton will be on the stump again, just north of the city on Wednesday, while her husband will lead four separate rallies across Manhattan. By Friday, Hillary Clinton will be campaigning in Syracuse.
Sanders isn’t yielding. He hopes to draw a big crowd in the South Bronx on Thursday evening, and he has successfully pressured Clinton to agree to hold a debate in the next few weeks in New York.
His advisors say they feel confident voters will feel more of “the Bern” as they get more exposure to him, much as voters have in some other states where Sanders overcame a big, initial deficit in the polls.
Fundraising continues to be robust for Sanders. He has the resources to compete through the end of the race in June, even if the delegate math overwhelmingly favors Clinton and her advisors express confidence she will have effectively locked up the nomination by the end of April.
A Sanders fundraising solicitation Wednesday made that clear: “We are fighting for every last vote,” it said.
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