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Essential Politics: Front-runners heading for victories, but not celebrations

(LAT)

Unless all the polls are dramatically wrong -- something that’s seldom the case, despite everyone’s memories of Michigan -- Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will claim big victories on Tuesday. But the events of this last week have made clear that their celebrations will be muted.

Clinton still faces weeks of battling with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has the money and ardent supporters to continue running even if his chances of winning the nomination grow faint.

And on the Republican side, Trump has realized how badly his campaign has been outmaneuvered by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and how little room for error he has in the campaign’s remaining weeks.

Good afternoon, I’m David Lauter, Washington bureau chief. Welcome to the Friday edition of our Essential Politics newsletter, in which we look at the events of the week in the presidential campaign and highlight some particularly insightful stories.

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THE BRAWL IN NEW YORK

In advance of Tuesday’s primary, Clinton has held onto a lead of roughly a dozen points in New York, give or take a few, depending on the poll. Her lead is based on strong support from African Americans and another key constituency in New York, Jewish voters.

As Mike Memoli reported, Sanders faces another big problem in the state: Many of his most fervent supporters can’t vote for him because they’re not registered Democrats.

Sanders will face that same problem in most of the states that vote the week after New York -- all but one limit their primaries to registered Democrats.

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Assuming Clinton wins the nomination, one of the demands the Sanders camp makes in exchange for his support could be a renewed push to end closed primaries. Sanders’ wife, Jane, seemed to hint at that in a recent interview. Proposals to change the rules for future contests tend to be easy for nominees to agree to because, by nature, those changes will not affect them.

For now, though, the campaign continues. As Thursday night’s debate showed, the two candidates are heartily sick of each other, and their mutual attacks are growing increasingly heated.

History shows that parties almost always heal after such fights -- the battle was much fiercer eight years ago, after all. Still, the intensity troubles many Democrats who would like to see the party start unifying to take on the Republicans this fall.

Check out David Horsey‘s sketches of the partisans.

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Both sides have engaged in some nasty rhetoric, but it’s not equally distributed. As Evan Halper and Matt Pearce reported, the Sanders campaign repeatedly has had to apologize for or explain away harassment, misogyny and other misconduct by some of Sanders’ backers, particularly on social media.

Tuesday night, we’ll bring you all the results and analysis of the primary on Trail Guide and on our Politics page.

And as the race unfolds, keep watch on the delegates in both parties with our Delegate Tracker, which shows where each candidate stands and where each has won support.

A KEY WEEK FOR TRUMP

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On the Republican side, the key thing to watch is not who wins New York, but how big Trump’s delegate haul will be.

New York sends 95 delegates to the Republican convention, the fourth-largest delegation behind California, Texas and Florida.

Unlike the Democrats, who distribute their delegates in all states proportionately to each candidate’s vote, the GOP in New York has a complicated rule: If a candidate wins more than 50% of the statewide vote, he gets all 11 of the state’s at-large delegates. Otherwise, delegates go to any candidate who gets at least 20%. Winning 50% in any congressional district gets a candidate all three of that district’s delegates. On the district level, too, if no candidate gets 50%, delegates go to any candidate who gets more than 20%.

Most recent polls show Trump just above the 50% mark statewide, with Ohio Gov. John Kasich in second and Cruz in third. But both Kasich and Cruz are targeting a handful of congressional districts, including some urban districts that have few Republican voters, hoping to maximize their delegate counts.

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For Trump, every delegate matters. He’s currently just barely on track to win the 1,237 delegates he would need for a first-ballot majority at the convention in Cleveland in July. And he knows that if he fails on the first ballot, he will have a very difficult time winning on a subsequent one.

As Melanie Mason and Mark Z. Barabak reported, in one state after another, Cruz has managed to outmaneuver Trump and get his own loyalists elected as convention delegates, even in states in which they are bound to vote for Trump in the initial vote. On a second or subsequent ballot, those delegates would be free to abandon Trump and back Cruz.

In the last week, Trump has beefed up his staff with some experienced Republican operatives in a belated effort to fix serious weaknesses in his delegate operation, but he’s awakened very late to the problem.

His defeats in state-by-state delegate contests have generated many heated complaints from Trump and his allies. But as Michael Finnegan explained, the popular vote has never entirely determined who wins party nominations.

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Meantime, as our colleague Stephen Battaglio reported, the prospect of Trump becoming the nominee is making executives from television stations in swing states worry. Their profit projections depend heavily on spending by candidates in election years, and based on what he’s done in the primaries, they fear Trump might not drop as much money on ads as they had expected to get from the GOP nominee.

SOME OTHER STORIES OF NOTE

Citizenship applications are on the rise. Trump is part of the reason why. But, as Kate Linthicum discovered, Republicans inadvertently helped fuel the drive to get more immigrants to naturalize when they successfully went to court to block President Obama’s plan to limit deportations. Read her article to find out how that happened.

Cathleen Decker had two sharp analytical pieces from New York that are well worth a look. One examined how much candidates on both sides live within their own ideological bubbles. The other looked at the scramble by the candidates for bragging rights on who is the real New Yorker.

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And, speaking of the real New York, Halper took a look at the surprising vibrancy of the city’s tabloid newspapers, which have driven the campaign debate over the last two weeks.

By contrast, Decker noted, California’s politics, unlike New York’s, mostly unfold on TV.

WHAT WE’RE READING

The 1994 crime bill that President Bill Clinton signed into law has become the subject of a lot of talk during this campaign year. But as Ron Brownstein notes in the Atlantic, much of that discussion has been historically inaccurate.

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“The historical record doesn’t support the left’s now-common assertion that the crime bill was primarily a politically motivated concession by Clinton to white racial backlash,” Brownstein writes. “In some ways the bill unquestionably misfired. But on the whole it did more to advance, than impede, the ongoing revival of America’s largest cities.”

And in the Cook Political Report, Amy Walter looks at how the anti-Trump forces in the GOP may be winning the delegate race, but losing the PR war.

“If Republicans think that denying Trump the nomination will solve their problems, they forget that the guy is neither a magnanimous winner nor a gracious loser,” she writes. “Forget about Trump running as an independent in the fall. He won’t have the organization or time to get on the ballot in most states. But, he’s got something more important than ballot access: Twitter and TV. He will be happy to continue his campaign against the GOP via social media.”

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That wraps up this week. My colleague Christina Bellantoni will be back Monday with the weekday edition of Essential Politics. Until then, keep track of all the developments in the 2016 campaign with our Trail Guide at our politics page and on Twitter at latimespolitics.

Send your comments, suggestions and news tips to politics@latimes.com.


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