Clinton Goes All-Out in New York to Hold Off Sanders

Both candidates are digging in for a fight they may have to carry on until the last primary.

Are the Primaries Unfair to Trump and Sanders?

Hillary Clinton isn't leaving any line of attack untested in the final week before New York's Democratic primary, aware that anything short of a big win may breathe new life into Bernie Sanders' campaign.

Clinton's all-out approach and rebuttals by Sanders seemed to end a brief truce that took hold in the campaign at the end of last week after increasingly bitter exchanges in which each questioned the other's fitness for office.

Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event in Brooklyn on April 8, 2016.
Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event in Brooklyn on April 8, 2016.
Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg

While continuing to jab at Republican front-runner Donald Trump, Clinton on Monday criticized Sanders' record on guns and immigration and questioned whether he's thought through his positions.

“I have noticed under the bright spotlight and the scrutiny here in New York, Senator Sanders has had trouble answering questions,” she told reporters at a restaurant in Jackson Heights, Queens. “He’s had trouble answering questions about his core issue, namely dealing with the banks. He’s had trouble answering foreign policy questions.”

While Sanders has backtracked from saying Clinton isn't qualified to be president, he's kept up an aggressive criticism of Clinton's ties to Wall Street and other special interests. “In terms of her judgment, something is clearly lacking,” he said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press.

The back-and-forth leads up to a debate Thursday night in Brooklyn, with both candidates digging in for a fight they may have to carry on until the final primary ballot is cast in June. While Clinton is looking to next Tuesday's primary in New York and a slate of five northeast primaries the following week to seal the nomination, Sanders has been raising enough money to carry on his campaign into the Democratic National Convention in July.

Decisive Win

A decisive win in New York could help make the primary fight an ever-smaller part of Clinton's daily agenda and allow her to set her sights solely on a general-election campaign against whomever the Republicans nominate at their convention, also in July.

Sanders, while facing long odds to win the nomination, is coming off a string of six caucus wins and one primary victory. Staying close to Clinton in New York would put a dent in the front-runner's defenses.

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If the New York primary is “within 10 [percentage points] then she’s going to have to do an awful lot of explaining to Democrats and the Republicans will be dancing in the streets,” New York Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, who isn't affiliated with either campaign, said.

Clinton held a 55 percent to 41 percent lead over Sanders among likely Democratic voters in New York, according in a Wall Street Journal/NBC/Marist poll released Monday. The survey was conducted April 6-10 and has an error margin of 4.2 percentage points. 

That's the same margin as the average of four other polls conducted in the state since late last month, though it’s narrower than her advantage earlier in March, according to data compiled by RealClearPolitics.

Campaigning in New York, Clinton is highlighting her service as the state's former U.S. senator, whether its talking up economic development in Buffalo or women's issues in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. She's hit Sanders for his opposition to trade deals, which she said would make it more difficult for businesses in upstate and western New York to find markets for their products.

Primary Rules

Sanders is running a game plan much like the one he's used in other states, focused on getting young people, liberals and working-class voters to turn out by railing against Wall Street, fracking and the influence of money in politics.

“Senator Sanders has to create issues because he's operating in a place where she is the local candidate,” Sheinkopf said. “He needs to force more ideologically driven voters to turn out for him, to get the people feel a sense of alienation to vote.”

Attendees are seen here lining up before Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate speaks at a campaign event in New York, U.S., on Sunday, April 10, 2016. Sanders secured his seventh consecutive nominating-contest victory after voters caucused in Wyoming, to give his campaign a fresh shot of momentum heading into New York’s pivotal primary later this month. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Bernie Sanders

Photos: The Presidential Race Comes to New York City

Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg

One challenge for Sanders in New York is that only registered Democrats can vote in the primary, which has been an advantage for Clinton in other states.

Some of the fiercest back-and-forth since the Democratic race turned its focus to New York more than a week ago has been over Wall Street. 

Clinton seized on an interview Sanders had with the New York Daily News editorial board in which he offered little specificity about his plans for the financial sector.

“He’s good on platitudes but as the educated voter gets into the issue and looks at them with greater scrutiny, the how do you get there, the how do you implement becomes a greater issue,” said Scott Levenson, a strategist who’s worked for Jesse Jackson, David Dinkins, and Mark Green. “The New York voter is a practical voter as well as a progressive voter.”

The Sanders campaign has responded to the fallout from the interview by reiterating his proposals and bringing out one of his most prominent backers, Robert Reich, who was labor secretary in former President Bill Clinton's administration.

The controversy over Sanders' remarks “says far more about the threat Sanders poses to the Democratic establishment and its Wall Street wing than it does about the candidate himself,” Reich wrote on his blog over the weekend. “Of course Sanders knows how to bust up the big banks.”

Wall Street

The Sanders campaign also has began airing an ad in New York, first released in January, that hits the justice system for letting off Goldman Sachs with a $5 billion fine for its role in the 2008 financial crisis. 

Clinton indicated she's eager to face off with Sanders on Wall Street issues during Thursday's debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

“Let it happen, let it happen,” she said Monday of a potential brawl over financial issues. “I have a record. As your senator, I spoke out. I called for changes.”

Clinton and Sanders also have been squaring off over fracking and guns, two national issues that have resonance in the Empire State.

Clinton supports a ban on fracking in states or local communities that don’t want it, if it causes pollution, or if the chemicals used aren’t disclosed. Sanders advocates a total ban on the technique used to extract oil and gas from underground.

“If we are serious about protecting the health of our children and our families, if we are serious about combating climate change, we need to put an end to fracking,” Sanders said Monday during a rally in Binghamton.

At a Long Island town hall, Clinton repeatedly invoked Sanders' name as she spoke of opposition to tighter gun laws. “Most of the guns that are used in crimes and violence and killings in New York come from out of state. And the state that has the highest per capita number of those guns that end up committing crimes in New York come from Vermont,” she said to gasps from the crowd. 

According to figures from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 55 guns recovered in New York state in 2014 came Vermont, a state of 626,562 people. By comparison, ATF figures show 395 firearms originated in Virginia, which has a population of 8.3 million.

—With assistance from Arit John.

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