ALBANY — Often an afterthought, New York’s presidential primary now looms large in the 2016 race for the White House — for both parties.
Need evidence? Front-runner Donald Trump and dark horse Ohio Gov. John Kasich will attend the New York Republican gala on April 14 — the first time that two contenders agreed to address the event. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who also plans to attend the gala, already has ventured to Manhattan and promised “New York will be a battleground.”
On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has set up a New York headquarters in his native Brooklyn — figuratively in Hillary Clinton’s backyard — and challenged her to a Big Apple debate, indications that he believes he can be competitive here. Clinton is beefing up her efforts with Democratic county chairmen.
Further, New York will be the lone state with a primary on April 19, ensuring the focus of the political and media worlds.
“All eyes will be on New York,” said Jay Jacobs, the Nassau County Democratic chairman who has been organizing Clinton efforts. “Candidates from both parties will be campaigning here — that’s not been the norm for New York in years.”
New York hasn’t been in the presidential primary spotlight often. Typically, its primary has been held after the parties have all but officially zeroed in on a nominee (Mitt Romney for the GOP in 2012) or the candidates focus their attention on other states and do little campaigning here (Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats in 2008).
This time, the New York delegates are vital to the outcome of both parties’ contests.
Ed Cox, chairman of the state Republican Party, said New York “will be a defining primary” and that the state’s primary is “our New Hampshire moment.”
For front-runners Clinton and Trump, New York is crucial in their attempts to cement the nominations. Trump, in fact, probably needs a huge win here to have a shot at locking up a majority of delegates before the opening of the Republican National Convention in July. If he doesn’t win big in New York and California, he might arrive in Cleveland with a plurality — not a majority — making for a possible brokered convention.
Clinton has a substantial delegate advantage over Sanders — a lead her backers claim will be insurmountable with a big win in New York.
But the Vermont senator is riding momentum from wins in western states (Washington, Utah, Hawaii, Alaska) and declaring he will challenge Clinton in her adopted state.
“We’re ramping up . . . We have a real shot” to win New York, Karthik Ganapathy, a Sanders spokesman, said after the campaign opened its New York base.
Helping Sanders will be the labor-backed Working Families Party. The party, which has pushed New York Democrats to take more liberal stances, has been holding Sanders “launch” parties around the state and plans to canvass door to door for the senator. WFP state director Bill Lipton said Sanders backers are “not ceding” any districts to Clinton.
The task for Clinton supporters is different.
“The challenge we have is that Hillary’s voters believe she’s going to win the nomination based on her delegate advantage,” Jacobs said.
The two parties have different numbers of delegates at stake and different mathematical ways of allocating them.
For Republicans, 95 delegates are stake. This includes three delegates in each of the state’s 27 congressional districts and 14 “at-large” delegates.
Candidates compete in each district — if one receives more than 50 percent of the vote in a district, he gets all three delegates. If no one garners more than 50 percent, then the top finisher gets two and the runner-up gets one.
The 14 at-large delegates will be allocated in proportion with a candidate’s statewide vote, Cox said.
Democrats have 247 delegates at stake. Like Republicans, Democrats will compete congressional district by congressional district. In most districts, six delegates are up for grabs, though some have five or seven. And the math gets tricky.
There are threshold percentages required to win certain numbers of delegates. If a candidate wins 41.7 percent of the vote in a district, he/she gets at least three delegates. If the candidate receives 58.4 percent or more, he/she gets four.
So Sanders could receive only 42 percent of the vote in some districts, but still split the delegates with Clinton, three apiece, Jacobs said.
That means campaigns will have to be very strategic about deploying resources to maximize delegate count. Spending time and money to push a candidate from 49 percent to 51 percent in a certain district would be meaningless. But working to get from 40 to 42, or, say, from 57 to 59, would be very important.
Similarly, Kasich and Cruz might strategically campaign in districts where they can win a delegate or two — polls show Trump far ahead of them on a statewide basis.