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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

As Bernie Sanders marches on, an endgame looms

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders greets volunteers in

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders greets volunteers in Bowling Green, Ky., on Wednesday, May 4, 2016. Credit: AP / Miranda Pederson

Since only one of Indiana’s primaries produced a knockout, it’s easy to ignore how the other one ended.

In his victory speech, GOP nominee-in-waiting Donald Trump mentioned Bernie Sanders — who won the state’s Democratic contest, but remains very unlikely to catch front-running rival Hillary Clinton.

The billionaire politician didn’t call the Vermont senator a “LEW-zer,” a favorite taunt of his. That wouldn’t have been in Trump’s immediate interest — even if his fans would talk of him “telling it like it is.”

No, Trump’s target has to be Clinton. So he quoted Sanders having accused Clinton of “bad judgment.” And while Sanders retracted his brief claim that she wasn’t “qualified,” Trump blithely threw that one in as well.

Even if he’s finishing his race, Sanders has made it forcefully clear he does not wish to be used as a tool for Trump. But the two agree on a big issue.

“In his hateful, unhinged, dangerous and almost roundly false rants, Donald Trump repeatedly makes one singular true statement,” Sanders’ official surrogate Jonathan Tasini wrote recently. “The North American Free Trade Agreement was a disaster for the country.

“Putting aside whether he actually believes the point or it’s just another part of the mutterings of someone entirely unqualified to serve as president, that statement is both a warning sign and a potential inspiring rallying cry for Democrats.”

But key questions lie ahead in just how Sanders might leverage his following in the Democratic Party once all the primary votes have been tallied next month.

Might the rivals meet before the convention — maybe in a vape-filled backroom? Couldn’t Sanders ask for power, let’s say, in choosing the secretary of the treasury, or Securities and Exchange Commission chair, or attorney general?

Even with a deficit of delegates, the Sanders forces could still make noise at the convention on such matters as platform planks.

One seasoned New York politico doubted Sanders would play it that way — and speculated that all post-primary talks would take place through the Democratic National Committee, and not necessarily between the candidates.

If Clinton wins and her party captures the Senate, Sanders could play a wider role on Capitol Hill next year, and “look over her shoulder.”

“She’d have to deal with him in the Senate,” said the operative, who declined to be identified. “He’s already kept her from running a centrist campaign.”

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