Why Hillary Clinton May Not Be Able To Truly Win New York, Even If The Numbers Say Otherwise
Let me start by saying that as I write this on April 19, it certainly looks like Hillary Clinton will win the New York primary. Sure, it's early in the day. The polls will be open for several more hours. The votes are far from tallied. Still, FiveThirtyEight predicts that Clinton has a 99 percent chance of winning the Empire State. The latest Real Clear Politics average of major polls has Clinton beating Bernie Sanders in the New York Primary by nearly 12 percentage points — not exactly the "virtual tie" in Iowa.
But despite all the evidence that Clinton is heading to pretty darn decisive victory in New York, will a win at the polls translate to the far more nebulous win in the minds of her fellow Americans? Specifically those of her fellow Democrats? That kind of win — the kind that would cool Sanders' Bern — will be far harder for Clinton to achieve in New York.
Although Sanders is almost certainly going to lose the primary, his campaign has definitely made tremendous inroads in the state. An Emerson College poll had Sanders trailing Clinton by 48 points in March. While the latest Emerson poll from Monday still has Sanders trailing by 15 points, that deficit seems relatively minute when one considers his 30+ point gain.
With that kind of boost in just a month, it is very easy for Sanders' supporters to make the argument they've got the "momentum." Sure, "momentum" by no means changes the delegate count, but it could be enough to keep the wind at Sanders' back (or let him continue to argue that the wind is at his back, and that he could realistically still nab the nomination).
Meanwhile, the pressure is on Clinton to have a big win in New York, the state she served as senator for eight years. Anything less than not just a win, but a sweeping win, could easily be twisted against her. It also doesn't help that Sanders and some of his supporters have vociferously criticized New York's closed primary rules (not that these rules are new). These rules keep independent voters from casting their votes in either major party's primary, and New York voters had to be registered with the Democrats by last October if they wanted to feel the Bern. As Kira Lerner and Emily Atkin at ThinkProgress noted, "New York has the earliest change-of-party deadline in the country."
Sanders tends to do well with independent voters, so the closed primary could hit him hard — and he's not being quiet about it. Sanders spoke about what he perceived as the unfairness of these regulations at his massive rally in Washington Square Park in Manhattan last week:
We have a system here in New York where independents can't get involved in the Democratic primary, where young people who have not previously registered and want to register today just can't do it.
On Tuesday, a man stood with Sanders and spoke about his difficulties voting in New York. "It should not be this hard," he said. Sanders agreed, "No, it should not be" before adding:
Today, there are three million people in the state of New York who are independents have lost their right to vote.
Separate from Sanders' campaign, a group of New York voters filed a lawsuit on Monday seeking to open up the state's primary. Some of the plaintiffs claim their party affiliation was switched without them even realizing it, according to a ThinkProgress report. According to political reporter Jordan Chariton of The Young Turks, there will be a hearing at 2:00 p.m. ET.
Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, I believe the complaints about the closed primary rules have already laid the groundwork for accusations that the New York primary is stacked to favor Clinton and/or hinder Sanders. That could be enough to tarnish a Clinton win, especially if it's not a dramatic, double-digit win. Clinton and her team almost seem to be anticipating the blowback — even if she wins New York — by lowering expectations for a landslide. Her campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon, told CNN on Monday, “I think the margin will be a little tighter than people expect.”
Clinton may ultimately get a delegate boost in New York to add to her substantial lead, but I doubt it will be the win she wants — or needs — to shake off Sanders once and for all.